Leocadia “Leo” Mercedes Martinez Sariol Johnson, family matriarch, lover of life and red lipstick, died on July 15, 2019 in Honey Brook, PA.
Our spicy Gigi was born on June 6, 1919 in Camagüey, Cuba to parents Ernesto (“Tato”) Cayetano Martinez and Graciela (“Tata”) Maria Sariol. She and her two siblings, Ernesto and Bertha, grew up with lots of love in both the city and on the family ranch compound with a ménage of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Leo was a feisty and spoiled little girl who learned how to behave (sort of) after she stuck her tongue out at her grandmother and quickly had the spoil swatted right out of her. As a teenager, she and her friends helped the tourism industry in Camagüey by giving the American tourist bad directions and giggling as they happily set out in the wrong direction. Growing up, Gigi loved dressing to the nines, having fun, and the attention of boys. Three things she never outgrew.
In 1941, the tall, handsome Texan, Weldon “Johnny” Scott Johnson, a B-25 radio operator for the Army Air Corps, was stationed in Puerto Rico and given tours of duty to Camagüey to hunt for submarines in the waters around Cuba. One fateful night, he and his buddies went to the country club to meet some nice girls. There he spotted a petite raven-haired beauty with red lips, dark eyes, and a zest for life. Johnny was instantly smitten. Leo wasn’t so sure about the American soldier – he was too tall! But she couldn’t resist Johnny’s quiet charm, and though she spoke no English and Johnny little Spanish, the two fell in love and were married in August 1942.
Post-honeymoon, Leo and Johnny moved to the states. Soon after the move, Leo tearfully wrote her mother, asking how she could possibly survive on Johnny’s meager salary. Her mother advised her to buck up and told Leo she could do it. And do it she did! The first meal she cooked for her new husband was tomato soup. Having never cooked a meal in her life, Leo put the entire can in a pot of water and boiled it. When she opened the can the contents sprayed all over the ceiling! Along with her cooking skills, Leo’s English was coming right along too, although under stress she was often at a loss for words. Johnny came home one day to find 24-year-old Leo standing on a kitchen chair, broom in hand, screaming, “a Mickey a Mickey”! Johnny got rid of the mouse, and the two laughed and laughed and never stopped in almost 66 years of marriage.
Grace was born in Gulfport, Mississippi in 1945 and a few years later the young family moved to Stuttgart, Germany where Johnny was stationed after the war. These years provided Gigi with some of her fondest memories. They traveled; they danced; they drank champagne.
After their time in Germany and a move back to the States, Robert was born in 1952 in Dothan, Alabama. Raymond, Leo’s “oops baby” was born six years later in Junction City, Kansas in 1958. Leo and Johnny settled in Kansas, raising their family, playing bridge, and entertaining friends with their famous parties. Leo spoiled her kids with kisses and the most amazing arroz con pollo. She seldom scolded them but often told them “Don’t be an idiot” in her heavy Cuban accent.
Leo excelled at being the life of the party and a social butterfly who made enduring friendships wherever she went. She was addicted to her soaps and never missed an episode. While giving birth to Raymond, she implored the doctor to hurry things along so she could catch her show. Leo had a life-long love affair with getting dolled up and was always dressed to a T with matching nails and lips, shiny jewelry, and her most-prized possession, the wedding ring from Johnny. She knitted afghans for everyone she knew, a little piece of Leo in dozens of homes across the country. Leo loved to tell stories about growing up on the ranch in Cuba, her beloved mother, and the love of her life, Johnny. Johnny preceded Leo in death, a heartbreak she shouldered with strength and grace. After Johnny passed, Leo continued to be the life of the party but without her wingman.
More than anything, Leo cherished her family, including children and grandchildren: daughter Grace Baker (Jeff) and their three daughters Laurie Swansen (Chris), Rebecca Boschert (Shawn), and Julie Riggs (Phil); son Robert Johnson (Susan) and their children Jeff Farnan (Alicia), Tim Farnan, Jennifer Garcia (Jeff), and Kelly Cervantes (Taylor); son Raymond Johnson (Laurie) and Ray’s two sons, Sam and Joseph Johnson. She was close to all seventeen great grandchildren: Meghan Swansen Stoltzfus (Austin) and Haleigh, Natalie, Jared, Sam, Ella, Bridget, Tabitha, Caleb, Andrew, and Whitney Jane Swansen; Keegan Boschert; Keira, Phillip, Hadley, Everly and Arden Riggs; Devon and Kyla Farnan; and Joe and Julie Garcia. And she had a special place in her heart for great, great grandchild Micah Stoltzfus. Leo is also survived by nieces and nephews too numerous to name, but Leo dearly loved nieces Sally Salners and Rena Kerr(Larry), and nephew Jody Johnson (Shirley) of Texas.
Together with all of her family and dozens of friends, Gigi celebrated her 100th birthday this past June in Downington, Pennsylvania with a tiara on her head and a beautiful smile on her face. She enjoyed the food and drink organized by Grace, loved the decorations put up by her great-grandkids, smiled at the welcome given by Robert, and cried when she danced to Volaré with Raymond.
Leo will be buried this fall at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. next to her sweetheart, Johnny. In lieu of flowers, the family hopes you cherish those you love as Gigi cherished us, and maybe have a vodka and orange juice, Leo and Johnny’s favorite evening cocktail, in her memory. If you are so inclined, you can make a small donation in Leo’s memory to the American Foundation for the Blind: 1401 South Clark Street; Suite 730, Arlington, VA 22202, https://www.afb.org.