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Obituary: Rita Elizabeth Murphy Pomerleau

Pomerleau family matriarch remembered for her love of family, animals and the arts

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Rita Murphy Pomerleau - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Rita Murphy Pomerleau

Rita Elizabeth Murphy Pomerleau was an extraordinary woman. Although she left this world on March 10, 2021, she will never be forgotten. Remarkably, both she and her husband lived to celebrate their 100th birthdays. At the time of her death, Rita was surrounded by her family, who had been caring for her in her lifelong home and who had given her the reason to live so long.

Rita was born in 1920 in Melrose, New Brunswick, Canada, to Helena Winnifred Helm and Denis Ignatius Murphy. Rita was the eldest of their five daughters and the last surviving member of her family. Always signing her name as Rita Murphy Pomerleau, she never forgot her Irish heritage or Canadian upbringing.

Rita fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a registered nurse after studying at Hôtel-Dieu de l’Assumption Hospital in Moncton, New Brunswick. Her first position after graduating was at Arvida General Hospital in Arvida, Québec.

Rita Murphy Pomerleau - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Rita Murphy Pomerleau

While nursing in Arvida, Rita developed a friendship with one of her patients, Ida Pomerleau Bushnell, whose younger brother became a frequent visitor. Ida’s brother’s name was Tony Pomerleau, and the rest is history. They were married on October 14, 1946, and in the years that followed, Rita and Tony created their own dynasty of 10 children, 13 grandchildren, four great-grandsons and a successful real estate business. All of this was accomplished in Burlington, Vt. Tony’s French Canadian background and Rita’s Irish Canadian background provided for years of good-natured banter between them.

To know Rita was to appreciate her love of family, animals, the arts, books, politics and fashion. Second only to the love for her family were the numerous beloved cats, dogs, birds and other animals she nurtured over the many years. She also orchestrated her 10 children's ballet, piano, art and singing lessons, often for unappreciative offspring. She was inexhaustible in attending baptisms, communions, confirmations, recitals, graduations, college visits, parents’ weekends and weddings, only to start all over again with her grandchildren. Reading a good book in the privacy of her bedroom was her main refuge, and her beautiful gardens were renowned. Painting and calligraphy were arts she enjoyed even in the constant chaos of her large family. In the midst of it all, she always managed to elegantly attire herself and her children and still get out the door with her lipstick perfectly applied and in her trademark high-heeled shoes.

Family trips are the folklore of her family. The memories of journeys to Canada, Mexico, Florida and many other destinations in the United States by car, plane and Winnebago provided for endless late-night entertainment. Rita somehow packed herself and the family and still managed to relax despite lost children, motion sickness, canceled reservations and vehicle breakdowns. Despite all this, Rita and Tony found time to escape together by ship and air to Europe, Canada, several islands and United States destinations. Their winter home in Bal Harbour, Fla., also became the winter destination for their children and later their grandchildren and great-grandchildren who trickled in one by one, often uninvited but always welcomed. This same approach worked for their summer home and boat.

Rita and Tony Pomerleau - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Rita and Tony Pomerleau

Tony and Rita were pillars of strength for each other. After Tony died in 2018, the family she nurtured continued their care for her, all the while attempting to fill the larger-than-life space that Tony had filled for her. Rita and Tony weathered years of joy and pain, building a business, and growing old together. Their financial success allowed for many charities to benefit from their generosity and the Antonio B. and Rita M. Pomerleau Foundation will carry on helping Vermont institutions into the future. Together they were pillars of their family and the Burlington community. Rita's husband, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were her pride and constant companions.

Rita is now reunited with her beloved husband of 71 years, Tony, and their forever-young daughters and granddaughter, Anne Marie, Ellen Theresa and Jessica Anne. Her surviving family is blessed with that comfort and has envisioned the reunion. Rita and Tony mourned the loss of their precious daughters, Anne Marie and Ellen, to the end of their own lives. The Pomerleau family mourned the recent loss of Tony and Rita’s granddaughter, Jessica Pomerleau Halnon, and their son-in-law, F. Daniel Corkery.

Rita leaves behind her devoted children: Ernest Pomerleau and wife Dee, Patricia Pomerleau, Elizabeth Pomerleau Mays and husband Thomas, Susan Pomerleau Corkery, Dennis Pomerleau, Rosemary Pomerleau, Alice Pomerleau Waxler and husband Brian, and Grace Pomerleau; and her loving grandchildren: Alexis Pomerleau, Terrence Pomerleau and wife Natalie, Ellen Waxler McGinnis and husband Ryan, Drew Waxler, Madeline Waxler, Olivia Waxler and fiancé Judd Waite, Caroline Rita Mays, Lauren Mays Tsentas and husband Christos, Alexandra Mays, Charlotte Mays, and Frank and Catherine Corkery. Last but certainly not least are her very special and much-loved great-grandchildren: Spencer, Sullivan, Oliver and Arden.

Rita was predeceased by her husband, Tony; her daughters Anne Marie and Ellen Theresa; her granddaughter Jessica Anne; and her sisters Laura, Frances, Alice and Stella.

Besides her immediate family, Rita leaves behind many beloved nieces and nephews in the U.S. and Canada.

The Pomerleau family would like to thank Rita’s personal caregivers, Danielle Dixon, Justine Autor, Morgan Lentine, Victoria Swindell and Beata Byrd, who provided loving care to Rita over the last many years. Understanding her pride, they made sure Rita was never seen without her signature black hair, chignon, beautiful dresses and lipstick. Rita was perfectly beautiful to her last day.

A private family mass and celebration of her life will be held on Saint Patrick’s Day — one of Rita’s favorite days of the year.

Rita Murphy Pomerleau - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Rita Murphy Pomerleau

Lastly, our amazing mom always said, “If I can instill my love of cats and flowers to my children and grandchildren, I will have done a good job.” Well, Mom, you did a great job. Therefore, in lieu of flowers and in honor of her love of animals, a donation in her name to the Humane Society of Chittenden County directed to the “Rita Pomerleau Feline Sanctuary” would be greatly appreciated: Humane Society of Chittenden County, 142 Kindness Ct., South Burlington, VT 05403 (hsccvt.org/donate).

Arrangements are in the care of Ready Funeral Service, 261 Shelburne Rd., Burlington, VT 05401(readyfuneral.com).

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