Roanoke “Spit-fire” Veneda Leslie Embodies Spunk, Savvy and Finesse

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Veneda and Ralph Leslie at home in the kitchen.

“I just want people to know that there really are those who love and care for others,” said a strong, misty-eyed Veneda Leslie. Veneda embodies spunk, savvy and finesse…a spit-fire who has embraced life fully and, even more so, the people in her path.

While Veneda was referring to her hospice care team as those ‘loving and caring for others,’ she has been the source of much love and care herself. She has the best stories – funny, unbelievable, inspiring.

Her husband of 71 years has witnessed it all (well, much of it). “We make banana pudding together, custard from scratch, and Ralph stacks the wafers,” she grins. Veneda’s favorites: cooking, bowling, playing with grandchildren, great-grandchildren…and the slot machines.

She is a mischievous delight. She shared a story of buying a single raffle ticket for a Shriner’s auction in 1977. The prize – a green and black Honda motorcycle. Could she ride?

No.

Unfortunately, she was sick the night of the New Year’s Eve Ball where they would draw the winning ticket. “I was greased up with Vicks, no make-up and wrinkled clothes when a man called at 12:45 a.m.,” she said. “He told me my name had been drawn and I had fifteen minutes to be at the event if I wanted the prize.” It was a wintery mess outside, but she and Ralph climbed in the car and headed toward the ball – as is! (Or were as it were.)

“Fortunately, the lights were low in the room,” she said, “that is, until the drum roll started, the winner announced, the applause erupted and the spotlight focused on our table!”

People offered to buy her new motorcycle but, as you might guess, she had other plans.

She learned to ride it, graduated to a 750 red Suzuki and joined a motorcycle gang called The Retreads. “You have to be over 45 to belong,” she laughed. “We’ve had a good life!”

She’s also had an active life. Veneda was a basketball stand-out at William Fleming. She graduated in 1948 and remains active in the William Fleming Golden Colonels, an alumni group that meets quarterly for lunch.

In talking about her family, she described them as “happy.” “We were as poor as church mice,” she said, “but we knew how to work!” She and Ralph had four children, Cornell, Barry, Kathy, Marian and she beams with pride when she speaks of each one.

Veneda with some “portraits of the past . . .”

She is a wife and mother, first and foremost, but she also found success in the business world. She started her career with American Chemical, a janitorial supply company, and moved from a clerical position to outside sales where she flourished; no doubt, due to her gregarious and warm personality.

In addition, she served as President of the American Women’s Business Association, Hollins chapter, and led fundraisers to establish scholarships for girls to attend college. In 1973, she was honored as “Woman of the Year” by the business association.

It’s hard to imagine that this high-spirited, bigger-than-life person was in the hospital just two months ago with congestive heart failure, failing kidneys that lead to a loss of 23 pounds. When she came home Good Samaritan Hospice became involved in her care. “I’ve just never been treated so well! I’m flabbergasted,” said exclaimed. “My hair has never looked better!”

Veneda and Kelly

Veneda says she has adopted each person on her Good Sam team and tells her son in New Mexico that he has a lot of new sisters he needs to meet.

She sends Kelley, her RN care manager, home with banana nut muffins and chocolate and says Niki has given her “the best bath ever.”

“I feel great.” she says . . . “These people really care.” Veneda smiles and nods toward Kelley, “And they also understand how to let you know they care.”

“We love you,” Kelley responds softly . . .

And she means it.

– Cindy Adams