Cecilie “Lee” Barrett, 89, known as a tireless supporter of the arts, a champion for homeless cats, and the driver of a zippy red sports car, died at her home in Pinehurst on Monday, June 24, 2013.
Over the course of a long and varied life, Lee reinvented herself several times over. Born Cecilia Unger in Berlin in 1924, she was a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, a student in the first ever Waldorf School established by Rudolf Steiner in the Hague, a cook in a London soup kitchen during the Blitz, a founding member of Holland’s first women’s army, and a translator for the U.S. intelligence forces’ Civil Censorship Division in occupied Germany. It was in the last of these roles that she met U.S. Army Captain Charles Barrett, whom she married in 1948.
So began a new chapter, as Cecilia became an American, anglicized her name to Cecilie —Lee for short — and settled into a new life as academic wife and mother to a daughter, Karen, born in 1952.
With the exception of sojourns in Tokyo, where Charles was stationed during the Korean War, and Alamogordo, N.M., where he worked for a time as a consultant to the U.S. space program, they lived in Maryland — College Park, Greenbelt, Bowie and Annapolis.
Her husband’s sudden death in 1971 brought a new upheaval, and Lee rose to the challenge, rebranding herself as fashion icon, raconteuse and advocate of worthy causes. She moved in 1980 to Pinehurst, where she happily found outlets for her eclectic interests. She was active for some two decades in the Arts Council of Moore County, first as a volunteer, then as editor of the Tidings newsletter, which in turn led to the position of media director. She organized the Council’s annual Fine Arts Festival, which now features a “Lee Barrett People’s Choice Award,” chaired the Recycled Arts Competition, and edited the Writers’ Competition.
For many years, she was one of the council’s more public faces, hosting a radio show and leading day trips to fine arts sites and events around the state.
Lee also played the violin, and was active in the Moore Chamber Music Society, chairing its annual Valentine’s Dinner Concert. And she got a big kick out of portraying Linnea in Monet’s Garden for the Performing Arts in Moore Schools program (PAMS), introducing elementary school students to Impressionist painting.
Some may remember Lee, well into her 80s, driving the lead car for the annual Tour de Moore, billed as the oldest road race in the South. Others knew her as the ultimate “cat lady.” She was passionate about animal welfare, operating her own one-woman feline rescue, as well as working with Animal Advocates and other rescue groups. She was highly vocal in support of trap-neuter-release programs for feral cats.
In Pinehurst, the girl who had been stateless and at risk for the first 20 years of her life found a niche and a sense of community that sustained her until the end.
She is survived by her daughter, Karen Barrett, of New York, and her granddaughter, Juliana Barrett, currently a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
In keeping with Lee’s wishes, no services are planned. A memorial event in her name will be announced in due course.
Online condolences may be left at www.littleteapot.com/lee-barrett.