Leita Thompson honored with magnolia: Park benefactor lived to help women

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ROSWELL, Ga. – Had she been alive, Leita Thompson would have enjoyed celebrating her 119th birthday at the park named in her honor with a picnic, drinks with friends and the planting of a magnolia tree.

Friends of “Miss Leita,” (1884-1978) as she was called, gathered for the picnic to celebrate her birthday April 17 and dedicate a bronze statue and tree in her name.

“We have a lot to be thankful for in Miss Leita’s legacy,” said Joe Pappadakis, president of the Leitalift Foundation.

Leita Thompson dedicated 107 acres of her personal estate to the city of Roswell to be turned into parkland. The land on Crossville Road now houses an arts center, a dog park, pavilion and gardens all in her name. The 2001 gift was worth $20 million.

Thompson spent her life working for women. At 16 years old, she joined the National Woman’s Party to pass universal suffrage in 1920. She spent much of her life in banking, working her way up to become one of the first female banking executives in the country. The Leitalift Foundation was created to support working women to make a living and achieve their goals. In all, 156 students, nurses, the retired and many other professional women have received grants to help them since the foundation was created in 1956.

“We chose a magnolia tree because Miss Leita was a Southern lady, a Southern magnolia,” said Zachary Henderson, vice president of Leitalift.

A statue was added of a little girl releasing a bird in front of the tree.

As part of the ceremony, the Rev. Malone Dodson led a prayer while sprinkling the statue and tree with waters from Hole No. 4 of the Augusta National Golf Course. He said those waters feed a magnolia tree.