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Grace Lorraine Thomas Baker Heyne, daughter of the late Grace Bertha (Hadley) and Wilber Cover Thomas, was born in Wilmar, California on November 12, 1931. Always with a bright smile on her face, she died in Chester, CT on December 12, 2022 at the age of 91.
A child of the Great Depression, she remembered “making do,” growing their own vegetable garden, and her father carrying meals to where hobos were camped along the railroad tracks down the hill behind their house (“I have a job and they don’t. It’s the least I can do.”). An only child, she often accompanied her mother to Garden Club meetings, and could identify just about any variety of flower grown in Southern California.
Her parents took her camping from a young age in Yosemite National Park. She never lost that love for camping and for Yosemite, and passed her love along to her children. She continued to camp in the Sierras as well as the Anza-Berrego Desert, and with her Connecticut family into the early 2000s.
When she had just turned 14, her father died suddenly. No one had heard of grief counseling back then; well into her 80s, Grace related how she would put her head down on the school desk and just sob and sob. Teachers and fellow students tried to be kind, but they had no idea what to do. Participating in GriefShare bereavement support groups made a real difference for her.
As many young people do in their later teenage years, she had begun to doubt her Christian faith. However, the 1947 discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was life-changing for her, confirming and anchoring her faith.
A 1949 graduate from San Marino-South Pasadena High School, she was an accomplished flautist, performing as first chair flute in the by-audition-and-invitation-only All-California High School Orchestra. She attended UC Santa Barbara, then transferred to UCLA. As first chair flute in the UCLA concert band, she sat directly in front of first chair saxophonist Gene Baker, who pursued a whirlwind romance. They completed their senior year at UCLA as newlyweds, then raised three children in Long Beach. Grace passed along her knowledge and skills, teaching both of their daughters to excel in playing the flute. She also passed along her love and skills for sewing, inspiring Carolyn to sew entire wardrobes; a very experimental and accomplished cook, Grace inspired Joanne to become an equally skilled “from-scratch” chef. She was renowned for saying, “Cooking is so scientific: just add a little bit of this; just add a bit of that.”
Her husband and children were proud to witness Grace’s 1963 graduation from USC with a Master’s degree in Education. She taught elementary school in the L.A. Unified School District for over 20 years, initially teaching in South-Central L.A. (Watts) during the tense period of the initial Watts riots. She later taught in San Pedro and Dominguez.
Grace Lorraine and Milt Heyne were married in 1982. They enjoyed traveling all over the country, and were very involved in serving their San Pedro community. Grace worked the 2000 U.S. Census in San Pedro, and invested herself in Las Professionales, Professional Business and Women’s Club, and the San Pedro Assistance League. Wherever she went, she made lifelong friends.
Mid-life she changed careers, studying and passing exams to become a Certified Financial Planner, Chartered Life Underwriter, Enrolled Agent, and other financially related specialties.
She and daughter Carolyn traveled extensively together, including camping, a cruise, and visiting grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Utah and Washington State.
At 90 years, “Grandma Lorraine” was a walking history book of Southern California, not just of when-and-where, but also of the tone and emotions of different eras. She enjoyed relating how Bob’s (literally) Red Mill was located in San Marino, but due to rising property taxes sold and relocated to Oregon, where they are today. She would tear up when recalling the Japanese-American father of a classmate coming to the school to apologize to the principal for what his ancestors’ countrymen had done in attacking Pearl Harbor and declaring war on the United States, before withdrawing his daughter for their move to an internment camp. So many other stories...
Grace Lorraine threw herself wholeheartedly into helping others, whether it was helping a step-daughter locate an appropriate shop to get her ears pierced and then holding her hand through the whole process; teaching a talented high school musician how to play the flute (he went on to perform for decades as a studio musician), or mentoring a student who, upon graduating from college, wrote to Grace that she had been the one teacher who had most believed in her, supporting and encouraging her throughout her entire educational career. An enthusiastic member of the El Redondo chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she had traced her family’s lineage to Wales on her father’s side and to the Mayflower on her mother’s side.
When Carolyn was diagnosed with an incurable cancer, Grace left her apartment in San Pedro to offer emotional support, living with Carolyn and her husband Sean for three years. When Carolyn died in early 2022, Grace moved 3,000 miles to live with her other daughter Joanne in Ivoryton, CT. Here, she worked out regularly at Joint Effort in Old Saybrook, attended a weekly women’s Bible study and Sunday church services, as well as a weekly GriefShare bereavement support program. Always a friendly and outgoing person, she developed some very sweet friendships here on the Shoreline.
Grace is survived by her loving daughter Joanne Lorraine Baker Deal and her husband Tom; daughter-in-law Jo Baker and son-in-law Sean Halliburton; step-children Jim Heyne (Patty), Katie Caulk (Bob), Rebecca St. Claire, Linda Heyne, and John Heyne; grandchildren Jared (Megan) and Travis (Kristin) Fixmer; Sarah (Tom Dilger), Hannah, Stephen, and Nathan Deal; and great-grandchildren Ethan, Melanie, Allison, Henry, Emily, Bradley, and Hannah Fixmer, and one Deal-Dilger on the way. She was predeceased by her son David Richard Baker (Jo) and daughter Carolyn Jean Baker Halliburton (Sean), and her husbands, Richard Gene Baker and Milton William Heyne.
Her family extends their appreciation to the staffs at Middlesex Hospital-Shoreline and Aaron Manor, as well as to Catherine Demers, APRN, for their exceptional, caring medical care to Grace.
In lieu of flowers, Grace would have loved for you to send to the charity of your choice as she was a contributor to many that were dear to her heart.
A memorial service will be held 1-3 p.m., Saturday, January 14, at Christ Chapel, 1185 Durham Road, Madison, CT.