Rita Elizabeth Bridgewater was the first of four children born in Houston, Texas to Albert Louis Bridgewater, Sr. and Rita Narcisse Bridgewater. The Bridgewater family moved to Albany, California in 1945 where Rita attended Codornices School. In 1948 the family moved to Berkeley, California where she attended Burbank Jr. High School and graduated from Berkeley High School. While in high school, Rita continued to focus on one of her passions, sewing, for which she won a Bank of America Designer Clothing Award. She began her professional career by graduating from Laney College in Oakland, California and working for a fashion design company in San Francisco.
Rita met James Blake at the DeFremery Recreation Center in Oakland, CA. James was in the Air Force and stationed in California. DeFremery held activities for young people in the Bay Area. They were married at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Berkeley, CA. Rita designed and made her wedding dress and her bridesmaids’ dresses. After James received his honorable discharge from the Air Force, they decided to live in James’ hometown of Marion, SC. From this union, five children were born: Karen Eileen, James Arthur Jr., Albert Anthony, William Leonard and Kevin Louis.
Prior to desegregation, Rita served on the Marion County School Integration Task Force Committee. Rita worked as an educator at Easterling Primary School. She served on the School Improvement Council, the Hospitality and Palmetto’s Finest Committees from 1972-1994. Rita also designed the Johnakin High School Tiger Band uniforms in 1969. When she retired from Marion School District One, she had served a total of twenty-two years.
Rita had an infectious personality and showed genuine interest in the well-being and activities of others by frequently offering words of encouragement. Rita was very active in the Marion community throughout her lifetime as shown by the numerous organizations she worked with and boards and commissions on which she served. She was a member/supporter of the United Way of Marion; Marion County Arts Association; American Cancer Society; Special Olympics of South Carolina; Harvest Hope Food Bank; Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault; American Heart Association; Saint Jude Children’s Hospital; Piney Woods School in Mississippi; and the American Diabetes Association.
Rita is survived by her children, Karen Blake, James (Gail) Blake, Jr., Albert, William (Diane) Blake, and Kevin Blake; her sister, Dr. Barbara Bridgewater of Berkeley, California; her brother, Dr. Albert L. Bridgewater, Jr. of Falls Church, Virginia; two grandsons, James A Blake, III and Preston Tyler Blake, one granddaughter, Shakyra Wortham; great-grandson, Jordan Platt; nephews, Lamont (Charla) Thompson and Joshua Bridgewater; nieces, Doris Ann Sheeler, Ramesi Bridgewater, Brenda (Alva) Drakes, Doris Wilson and Cheryl Taylor; great-nephews Jeffrey Blake, Vernon Sebastian Drakes, Malcolm McGregor Drakes, and great nieces Verna Letrece Wilson, Dawn Mary Wilson and a host of other relatives and friends.