Willhite, Rita, 86, died peacefully with her family at her side, under the care of Hospice on Friday, July 14, 2023. Rita was born in Richland Center Wisconsin and became a part-time Phoenician by attending St. Mary’s High School half of the year. Rita met the love of her life, Duane, at the Newman Club at Arizona State University. They were married at the current St. Mary’s Basilica shortly after her graduation in 1960. They two spent a year in Chicago while Duane completed his Army tour of duty, and then returned to Phoenix where she spent the remainder of her life. Rita worked as a secretary until 1965 when their first daughter, Amy, was born and then became a stay-at-home mother, having one more daughter, Carrie, two years later. She remained at home until the daughters completed high school and then became an active volunteer at the Heard Museum. Native American arts and jewelry were second hand to Rita due to working at her father’s Phoenix retail store, Carl’s Rocks and Gems, before the girls were born. Her volunteer work evolved into a part time and later full-time position as shop assistant and buyer at the Heard Museum.
Duane worked as an accountant at various small firms in the valley as a controller until retirement. When Rita retired, the two travelled the world, visiting over 100 countries on over 30 cruises. Some were longer than 30 days! They enjoyed their lives together immensely. Rita was preceded in death by her husband Duane in 2013.
Rita is survived by her sister Jean Bauer and husband Gene, daughter Amy and husband Carl Chapman, her daughter Carrie and husband Rob, and grandson Jack Bagby(16), who was the light of she and Duane’s lives. Recently, Rita urged Jack to attend a summer Peru immersion trip while attending Brophy; she was thrilled that he walked in her footsteps at Machu Picchu, and loved to hear him recount his summer travels with her. Rita definitely instilled her strong faith and the bug to travel into her grandson.
Rita is now in peace, and we imagine is again traveling the world with Duane.
Visitation will be at St. Mary’s Basilica, 231 N. 3rd St., Phoenix, on Friday, July 28th, at 9:00am, followed by Rosary at 9:30am. Funeral Mass will be held at 10:00am. Interment will follow at St. Francis Catholic Cemetery, 2033 N. 48th St, Phoenix. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Hospice of the Valley, 1510 E. Flower St. , Phoenix 85014, or Mayo Clinic Hospital, 5777 E. Mayo Blvd, Phoenix, 85054, or to your favorite charity.