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Letty Anderson

Letty: you are dearly missed

Letty Anderson, longtime Quepos resident and bassist in a number of local bands, died on May 9, 2016 from endometrial cancer. She was 72. She described herself as a “Bassist, economist and feminist. In that order,” though the song of her life played out the other way round.

Young LettyShe was born Letty Donaldson, the daughter of the local district attorney in East Peoria, in central Illinois. Though the youngest and smallest of three children, she had no trouble sticking up for herself. According one family story, she and her sister Cindy got into a fight one morning before school, and in a melee of swinging fists, she gave her sister a black eye. After her sister went to tell mom, the two of them fought again — at which point Letty gave Cindy a second black eye.

When they weren’t fighting, the sisters were singing when they should have been sleeping. Cindy beat out the time on the dresser between their beds, and made Letty sing while holding her ears. Gradually Letty was able to let go of her ears and stay on tune. Letty took accordion lessons when she was barely big enough to hold one, and from there taught herself to play piano and guitar.

Letty, son John & MartinAfter high school she attended Northwestern University in the Chicago area.  After graduation she married fellow alumnus Mike Ochwat and had a son, John. She divorced Mike three years later and married Bruce Anderson. She divorced Bruce three years later, keeping his last name.

She returned to Northwestern and earned a PhD in economics. In 1974 she accepted a teaching position in Canada at the University of Western Ontario, and in 1977 she moved to York University in Toronto where she became a tenured professor.

Letty & Lance“Letty was a great colleague and one of a very small number of women to pursue a career in academic economics at the time she started out,” one of her fellow faculty members wrote.  “She was a pioneer in many ways other ways too, being one of only a handful of people to start researching and teaching gender issues and perspectives in economics at the time.”

Letty playing bassFor many people one career is plenty, but in 1982 she took up with Lance “The Harp” Bennett, a local harmonica player. After living with Lance, it occurred to her she could spend her evenings watching him gig—or join the band. At a kitchen jam session at a friend’s house, she picked up the bass out of necessity, as they already had a guitarist, singer, drummer and harmonica player.

“Once I picked it up,” Letty said, “I realized I knew the basslines of songs from years of listening.” The jam sessions led to getting up on stage for a song or two at friends’ gigs, and then to playing in a variety of bands in the Toronto area, including a duet where she played accordion.

The GladstoniansOne of her longest gigs was with The Gladstonians, the house band at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel, along with Lance, guitarists Ralph McDonald and Mike Burns, drummer Paul Kraussman, and keyboardist Jim Christakos. Letty and her 1965 road-worn Precision Bass played there for six years. The Gladstonians were featured on “Bluesman,” a TV program which aired in Canada and internationally, and they cut one album, “No Visitors after 10 p.m.” In 1994, she was profiled in the Toronto Star, in a story titled “Economics PhD Can Lay Down a Mean Bass Lick.”

The whole time she was teaching at York she scheduled her teaching to have Mondays off to accommodate the Sunday night gig.

Letty, Lance & Niven“Students liked her lectures,” wrote another former colleague. “In fact they were raving about her teaching. She became Master of Atkinson (Dean of Students) and used the position to put on gala dinners with live music to honor top students with their families.”

Letty won two teaching awards, including a prestigious one given to only two teachers in the province of Ontario. When she was chair of the economics department, she also intervened to re-hire admins who had been laid off.

Letty & Lance halloweenIn the 1990s, Letty and Lance joined the snowbird migration to Costa Rica, eventually moving to Quepos when she retired from teaching in 1999. L&L gigged up and down the Pacific coast, with occasional stops in San Jose and Florida, though they were most often found at Dos Locos, playing Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons.

Even great songs must come to an end, and when Letty was too ill to play, she returned to the U.S. for the last couple months of her life. She died peacefully with friends and family around her until the end. One of her basses now belongs to her great-niece, Maggie, the next bassist in the family.


5 Responses to “Letty Anderson”

  1. Wayne said:

    Very sad. She was very friendly. I loved going to DOS Locos and listening to her and the group on Saturday mornings. Condolences.


  2. simon (bolivar) auckland said:

    How sad,

    but at least she can make groovy music with Lance again.

    Bolivar.


  3. Alex said:

    She will be sorely missed: that’s 2 great people the world has lost. May her Music live on to fill the space she once occupied…
    Bless


  4. Jon Lehti said:

    Letty was a fabulous human being and Lance too. She used to come out and watch me play the bass and said it was to learn. A great person.


  5. Jon Lehti said:

    Letty was the best. A very friendly compassionate soul with the ablity to learn anything and learn it very well. I miss her.


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