'She’s looking down and smiling’: Hundreds pay their respect to Leah Chase

'She’s looking down and smiling’: Hundreds pay their respect to Leah Chase

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Hundreds of mourners remembered the life and legacy of Leah Chase at the Xavier Convocation Center Saturday morning (June 8).

A steady stream of people paid their respects to the renowned chef and civil rights activist.

“She was a people person," Naomi Smith said. “She would come around and talk to you, and make you think that she was related to you, or you were her neighbor, but she really was a loving, loving person.”

Arnie Fielkow, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of New Orleans, was one of the many reflecting on Ms. Chase’s widespread impact.

“It’s a big loss to our community, but I don’t know that I’ve ever met anybody that’s made a bigger impression not only in New Orleans, but around the world, and I’m going to miss my dear friend,” Fielkow said.

Some shared stories of learning signature recipes from Chase, like Anthony Denson, who said his daughter worked alongside her in the Dooky Chase kitchen.

“It’s very special because I thought with my daughter started working there, that was the best thing that ever could have happened, and I don’t think she understood the magnitude of who she was working for,” Denson said.

Meanwhile, others, remembered her compassion.

"I grew up in the Desire Projects, and a lot of times, when we didn't have any place to go, we had Dooky Chase. The other restaurants weren't open to blacks, but Miss Chase always was," Smith said.

Gloria Magee recalled the same.

“She would never turn anybody down for a meal,” Magee said.

Fielkow said he worked closely with Chase on social issues.

"Recently, we've been working on some Jewish, African American relationship issues. We did a show together just a couple months ago," Fielkow said.

Though they recognize the impact Chase had on their lives and the community, those in attendance also said they are struggling to come to grips with her passing.

“It really put a lump in your throat to think that she’s gone, and then Dr. John is gone in the same week that she’s gone," Smith said. "Isn’t that interesting, huh?”

For many, the opportunity to say goodbye was not a thing to miss.

"To see her not here, is just something we're going to have to deal with, and like I said, I'm just overwhelmed, and I had to come here today because I had to pay my respects," Denson said.

But even though Leah Chase has passed away, those who love her said they know she isn’t gone, not really.

“She’s looking down and smiling on all of us,” Eustis Guillemeg said.

Ms. Chase died last Saturday (June 1) at the age of 96. She will be laid to rest Monday, June 10, at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church on St. Philip Street. Visitation will be held from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., with the Rosary following immediately after. Mass will be held at noon and seating is limited.

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