Louise Whitehead, a devoted mother and longtime volunteer at Preble Street soup kitchen, died Feb. 26 after a period of declining health. She was 88.

Louise Whitehead, an obituary photo

Mrs. Whitehead was remembered this week as a loving and compassionate woman who loved to play bridge and poker and make cookies for her grandkids.

She was married to the late Larry Whitehead for 52 years. The couple raised four children and lived on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Burlington, Vermont, before settling on Woodford Street in Portland in 1974.

Early on, Mrs. Whitehead was a homemaker. She was remembered for her energy and dedication to family and community. Dawn Kenniston of Portland, the second oldest of her children, reminisced about their early years Tuesday, saying her mother was a “rock star.” Kenniston said they had family dinner every night and her mother always found time to make homemade dessert.

According to her obituary, Mrs. Whitehead was part of the fabric of every community she lived in. She opened her door to neighborhood kids and offered to help people whenever she could.

Kenniston said one of her fondest memories of childhood was the day her mother helped a Lebanese family when they lived in Burlington.

“One day (a neighbor) was pounding on our back door with a chicken under her arm,” Kenniston said. “The chicken was crying. The neighbor couldn’t speak English. In those days, no one had live chickens in their yard in urban settings. My mother grew up with chickens in rural Nova Scotia. She could see the chicken’s leg was broken, so she splinted it with a popsicle stick and medical tape. (Our neighbor) was so happy and so grateful. It symbolically opened a door into people’s perspectives that day in our little neighborhood.”

Mrs. Whitehead returned to the workforce as her children became more independent. She held accounting positions at Emery Waterhouse and later Olsten Temporary Services in Portland.

When Mrs. Whitehead retired, she joined World Gym and Willowdale Golf Club and started volunteering at Preble Street and St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchens.

“She was a volunteer until she was physically unable to stand to wash dishes at the soup kitchen any longer,” her daughter said. “Until three years ago, you would never know she was in her 80s. She was on top of her game and was such a leader in the community. She touched so many lives. She was such an amazingly giving woman.”

Mrs. Whitehead volunteered in the soup kitchens for about 20 years. Kenniston reflected on her mother’s passion for service to the community. She said her mom loved to cook and would often cook the vegetables for the soup at home on Sunday.

“She had tremendous spirit,” her daughter said. “She loved the camaraderie. She loved the people she served there. She had great respect and concern for people who were disadvantaged. She had tremendous compassion.”

A highlight of her life was spending time with family every summer at Ocean Park in Saco. About 35 to 40 family members rented cottages in what Kenniston called family camp. She said they ate together every night.

“We have wonderful memories,” her daughter said.

A few years ago, Mrs. Whitehead began to develop heart issues. Kenniston said her mother’s prognosis wasn’t good, so she and her husband bought the family home and moved in with her.

“My husband and I, my mother, and my daughter Lily lived together as a family,” she said. “It was the most awesome experience for all of us. It enabled her to keep going and be involved in bridge. She had a poker group that came to the house. She baked. She volunteered. It was good for all of us. It really was.”

Mrs. Whitehead maintained her independence throughout her life. She drove and played bridge four days a week. For 62 years, she baked Christmas cookies for her family. This Christmas, she baked shortbread cookies for her grandchildren who couldn’t get home because of COVID. Her daughter said she loved her grandchildren.

“My youngest, Lily would say, ‘Mimi made everyone feel like they were the only one,’ ” Kenniston recalled. “In the next breath, Lily would say, ‘but I was really the only one.’ ”

In December 2019, she fell and broke her hip and wrist. Eight weeks later she was driving again.

“Through sole determination, she moved on,” her daughter said. “She had just sort of made her way back into playing bridge. She had a little poker group that met on Mondays. Then, COVID happened and it broke her heart. She would call and check on friends. She didn’t do anything. Last summer, her poker friends became brave enough to come over with masks and sit on the porch to re-establish their card game. She would sneak out on us. We never wanted her to go anywhere and all of a sudden, she would come home with a bag from CVS. She would have to confess that she snuck out. I think that’s what kept her vibrant. For 88 years, she always had a tomorrow, every day, until her last day.”

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