Rita Handler Was Known for Great Love of Family

Rita Handler died Saturday, March 11, surrounded by her children and husband, who held her dearly throughout her final weeks and moments.

Born and raised in Germany, Rita visited New Jersey as a 19-year-old in 1958, where she found a storybook romance.

While working at the Sig Buckmeir ski shop at the Essex Green shopping center in West Orange, her future husband, Seymour, came in looking for socks, which he found along with "fraulein fever" for the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Although she soon returned to her family in Germany, there ensued 600 air-mail love letters between the two -- a correspondence that melted away the distance and family resistance to their love affair.

They eloped in 1960 and sons Chet, Roy and Glen and daughter Simone followed in the next five years, with Shoshanna and Chelsea arriving in 1969 and 1975. Rita devotedly mothered her six children in Livingston during the school year, and enchanted summers were spent at the family summer home overlooking Katama Bay on Martha's Vineyard.

Strong and independent, this quiet and penetrating lady raised and nurtured her six children while becoming a master interior decorator, chef, counselor and friend to all she encountered. Informal, modest and lighthearted, she warmed hearts in Essex and Morris counties in New Jersey and on the Vineyard through her work as a private nurse with the Visiting Nurses Association. She was also active in the Livingston Temple Emanuel Women's Club and the Caldwell Latter Day Saints' Society.

Devastated by the 1984 loss of her dear and beloved first-born son, Chet, Rita was able eventually to rebuild her own spirit one day and one conversation at a time, with family, friends, strangers and members of the clergy. Her deep religious faith, soft kindness and twinkling eyes produced an irresistible warmth that left a mark on all.

After being diagnosed with cancer in 1989, she fought it courageously for more than 16 years, once again demonstrating her spirit and powerful character.

She is also survived by sisters Elke and Gaby, six beloved grandchildren and the infinite power of her own love.