Cover photo for Sophia O'Dell's Obituary
Sophia O'Dell Profile Photo
1925 Sophia 2018

Sophia O'Dell

January 5, 1925 — November 16, 2018

Olive passed away peacefully at 93 on November 16, 2018 after a short illness. As her two children, Patrick and Carla, it is our pleasure to tell bits of her story here to give you a glimpse of the compassionate, beautiful, feisty, witty and smart woman she was.

Born in Maries County, Missouri on January 5, 1925, Olive was the seventh of thirteen children, three of whom died in childhood. That loss made a mark on her forever. She grew up in Rolla, Missouri where her dad worked in an ice cream factory. Olive was the first to graduate from high school and then go on to college. She met and married Harry O'Dell in Rolla in 1948. Her daughter Carla was born there. To follow the post-war boom, they moved to Dallas, Texas in 1951, where their son Patrick was born.

After high school, Olive's kids went off to seek their fortune, Olive divorced Harry O'Dell then moved to Houston, Texas from Dallas in 1986.

Olive always worked. Over the years in Dallas, she was an invaluable executive assistant, an insurance specialist and a trustworthy and detail-oriented real estate agent. She was organized to the max. Boy, could she write a letter. She felt most problems were the result of poor communication.

In her last career, she adroitly managed the personal business of Carla and Carla's late husband Jack for thirty years before her retirement at 88. She edited their first book for them.

Education was a refuge and religion for Olive. Raised a devout Southern Baptist, she was a graduate of a two year program at Hannibal LaGrange College (now University) in Hannibal, Missouri. She went back to school at 65 to get her bachelor's degree in psychology with honors at the University of Houston. We have vivid memories of her slinging her big book bag over her shoulder and driving off to class.

She said history class was easy for her because she lived most of it. What a century of change.

• Near the end of World War II, she became one of the first civilians to receive penicillin. She had inhaled a tack as a six-year old and at 18 suffered a lung hemorrhage. To save her, the surgeons in St. Louis removed one lobe of her left lung along with the tack. Penicillin wasusually reserved for soldiers but because Olive was a healthy 18 year old and the surgery was experimental, they gave her massive doses. She was allergic to the drug from then on, but it saved her life and got her a front page story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
• She had just glimpsed a bit of Jackie's pink suit as the Kennedy motorcade passed through downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963 when she heard the sirens screaming something had gone terribly wrong.
• Olive enthusiastically joined the computer generation in the Eighties. She was a technology whiz kid and computer coach to a generation of friends including the Round Robins- a circle of college girl friends who traveled and shared a newsy round robin letter each year for fifty years. She saved almost every email she ever wrote or received.
• She recycled before it was fashionable. For 30 years, she collected and drove her recycling to the center miles from her home.

She was the family photographer. Despite her family's whining and protests, she would take pictures every time we got together. Those are a treasure now.

When Olive had a recipe she wanted to master, she practiced until she nailed it. As a young wife in the early Fifties, she made and threw away dozens of balls of pie dough until she had the right formula for perfectly flaky pastry. Her meatloaf recipe is still a staple in several Houstonian homes. Her pressure cooker spare ribs and smothered pork chops were addictive as were her birthday and Easter cakes.

Olive loved to sew and was a classy dresser. She wanted to dance and was an early practitioner of Jazzercise. She read mysteries: all of Dame Agatha Christie (multiple times), the Sir Peter Whimsey series and hundreds of others from Amazon, her favorite store.

She was a devoted Do-It-Yourselfer. She had a huge assortment of tools and gadgets: she could fix anything. She painted and papered her condo multiple times and reupholstered her six dining room chairs herself. (She ended up in the ER for neck pain after that project.)

Olive is survived by her daughter Carla O'Dell of Houston, TX and son Patrick O'Dell of Lakewood, CO; her youngest sister, Colleen Chencinski of Glen Ellyn, IL; Colleen's daughters Tyra Lyndon and Kathy Huttner and their families of Chicago, IL; the three children of her late sister Veta and hubby Charlie Baker and their families: Bobby Baker of Boise, Idaho; Roberta Brow and her husband Frank Brow of Plainfield, IL and the youngest, Marsha Baker her wife Diane Eichhorst of Oregon, IL.; and her nieces Karen Welch of Laguna, CA the daughter of Olive's eldest sister, Hazel; Valerie Leszczynski and son Matt of Portland, OR, daughter of her late sister Gerzilla.

She dearly loved and missed her late son-in-law, C. Jackson (Jack) Grayson and thanked him for her adopted family of 35 years: Chris, Kelly and Mckenna Grayson of Laguna Niguel, CA; Michael Grayson, Siew Leng Toh and Andrew Jackson Grayson of Portland, OR; Randall Grayson and Kerry O'Regan and twins Annika and Clove of Nevada City, CA. What a joy you all were to her.

Olive was lovingly protected and cared for by her companions: Marta Gossaye, Sara Gebretsedik and Yodit Tessema. The family is so grateful for their respectful devotion to her every need. Mom called it "Living in the Lap of Luxury" and we thanked our lucky stars they came into our lives.

We want to thank all of our friends and colleagues at APQC and Burt Technologies for their empathy and support. It helps so much. And to mother's family and friends: you never forgot her. She loved the phone calls, cards, letters and pictures. And to Carla's beautiful circle of "Friends with Mothers," it truly takes a village.

Olive will be laid to rest in a family plot located in Missouri. A memorial tribute was held in Houston and will be held with family in Chicago.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Houston Hospice (HH). They treated us like family for the last two weeks of Olive's life. Those people are saints. HH relies on community support to provide a remarkable and unique service to all patients and families at no cost. To make a tax-deducible donation, by mail: or can go here to make a donation online: or contact the HH Development Department at 713 677-7123.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Sophia O'Dell, please visit our flower store.


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