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Mildred's Story

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Mildred Kelley Lea, 93 of Tuscaloosa, AL, passed away July 27, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Eliza Mildred McClurg was born Aug. 16, 1922 in Coopersville, a small town in Wayne County named after her mother's ancestors who settled the area. She grew up in Morehead, Rowan County, near where her father's ancestors settled some years after migrating to Kentucky from Pennsylvania. Both families were early pioneers arriving in Kentucky in the late 1700s.

After graduating from nursing school in 1943 from the University of Kentucky, she was proud to join the Cadet Nurse Corps. Stationed at Hines Veteran's Administration Hospital near Chicago, IL she met her future husband, Sgt. Walker L. N. Kelley. After the war, they married in 1946 and moved south to his home state of Alabama. Mildred worked as an RN all of her professional life spending many years at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Tuscaloosa and, in later years, at Druid City Hospital. A few years after the death of her first husband she met and married Donald Lea, a veteran of WWI and the Korean War. Together they enjoyed traveling, a passion that continued for her throughout life. She traveled to many places across the globe.

Mildred never met a stranger and was known far and wide for her big heart and warm smile. She was a longtime member of Hopewell Baptist Church in Alberta and later First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa. She loved the fellowship of her faith community going on mission trips to build churches in needy areas. She was a spectacular dancer, loving music and line-dancing especially. She was a founding member of the Tuscaloosa Ballroom Dance Club and started the line-dancing class at Capstone Village where she was a resident.

Mildred never forgot her Kentucky roots and returned many times to Morehead to visit family and friends. She often attended her high school reunion in Morehead, the last time being in 2014.

Next to God, her family and friends, Mildred loved this country. She was extremely patriotic always wearing an American flag pin or some other red, white and blue symbol. She loved America's Veterans and supported many Veteran causes.

"Mimi", as she was known to her family, will be dearly missed but the virtuous and faithful life she led and the love she gave to everyone will forever be a light to lead us on. Her family is immensely grateful to all of her friends, wonderful caregivers and neighbors for their love and support.

She was preceded in death by two loving husbands; Walker Lee Noyes Kelley who died in 1969 and Donald Bruce Lea who died in 1980; one son, Bruce Lea; her parents, Laura Florence Cooper and Lewis James Edward McClurg and her brothers, John Francis Edward McClurg, Homer Lee Simpson McClurg and Walter McClurg.

Survivors include daughters Melody Kelley Di Piazza (Sam) of New York, NY and Sissi Lea Smelley (Bart) of Tuscaloosa, AL; son Johnny Lee Kelley (Pam) of Panama City, FL; grandchildren, Amy Di Piazza McCready (John), Jason Di Piazza (Katya), April Kelley Lewis (Ian), Katie Kelley, Jana Smelley Mobley (Miller), Chris Smelley (Josie), Brad Smelley; greatgrandchildren, Walker, Elisabeth and Jack McCready, Nicholas, Sam and James Di Piazza and Mary Coleman and Cannon Smelley.

Visitation was Sunday July 31, 2016, 1:00 PM First Baptist Church Chapel, Tuscaloosa, AL. Funeral services were conducted Sunday July 31, 2016 at 2:00pm with Rev. Vial Fontenot and Rev. Richard Donohoe officiating. Burial followed in Tuscaloosa Memorial Park.
Pallbearers were Jason Di Piazza, John McCready, Miller Mobley, Chris Smelley, Brad Smelley.

Tuscaloosa Memorial Chapel was in charge of arrangements.
Published on August 2, 2016
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