On March 15, 2021 Rathma Lee Frazier Johnston burst through the gates of heaven dancing and shouting, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s Rathma Lee!” as she was reunited with her husband, friends, and other family members.
Born on July 8, 1927, Rathma grew up in Narrows, VA and was the oldest daughter of the late Janie Elizabeth Cunningham Frazier and William McKinley Frazier. Rathma’s personality was a mixture of independence, determination, spunk, and sass. Nobody told her what to do. Ever. She dropped out of high school after the eighth grade to help her mother raise her seven brothers and sisters. When she was sixteen she got her first job at the Celanese plant in Narrows. She took great pride in being able to contribute to her family’s earnings and enjoyed splurging to buy them delicacies such as bananas and candy. Her generosity toward others continued throughout her life and she was often known for handing her grandchildren large sums of wadded up one dollar bills from the side pocket of one of her many purses.
After World War II Rathma met an adorably handsome Airman, Eldridge Kendell Johnston, from Eggleston, VA. They met on a blind date. She was immediately smitten by the English accent he acquired while on assignment during the war. He was immediately smitten by her gorgeousness, larger than life personality, and her coconut cream pies. Rathma refused to call her love Eldridge and gave him the nickname Eddie, which is what everyone called him going forward. Obviously. They were married on September 17, 1946.
Rathma’s greatest legacy is the way she loved her family and friends well but her true passion was cooking. She served as a sous chef for over 30 years in several of the Roanoke Valley’s hotel restaurants. She was best known for her years at the former Holiday Inn on Airport Road. Every Sunday she would stand at the end of the buffet line and personally carve a beautiful steamship round and carefully place it on each guest’s plate. People came from miles around for her famous angel biscuits and conversation. She made each and every guest feel loved and known through her southern comfort food and friendly spirit. She was our very own live and in the flesh Paula Deen.
Even in retirement, Rathma continued to cook for others. She always had some of her homemade bread ready to send to someone to enjoy. She warned the recipients that they should not insult her bread with margarine. Real butter only, please. She made fudge, candies, fruitcake, cakes, pies, and much more as gifts as well. She also developed her own small business making fried apple pies and selling them at Smith’s Store near the home she and Eddie shared for 30 years in Blue Ridge, VA. She was known as the Pie Lady for many years and her pies would often sell out within hours of delivery.
Especially in her later years, Rathma enjoyed watching birds at her many bird feeders, watering her plants, sitting on her screened in porch, and she adored her cats Eddie and Eloise. She was completely blessed to be able to live in her own home for the remainder of her life with her daughter as her caretaker for the last fifteen years. During these years she retained every bit of her spunk and sass, even as her independence and determination declined. She took great joy in talking to her many friends on the phone as well as walking without her rollator when nobody was looking. She also took every possible opportunity to kiss everyone she saw square on the lips, especially handsome fellas.
Rathma loved Jesus with all her heart but she did cuss a little. Basically, she was the perfect mix.
Waiting for Rathma in heaven are her beloved Eddie, her son Glen Edison Johnston who died shortly after birth, and her son Ronald Lee Johnston. Ronnie was profoundly autistic and lived away from home in a care facility for a large portion of his life. Until they were physically unable, Rathma and Eddie found so much joy in bringing Ronnie home for a few weeks each year to spend time with them. They visited him often. They had two other children, Vickie Marlene Johnston Anderson of Salem, VA and David Kendell Johnston and his wife Debbie of Daleville, VA. Rathma adored her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and leaves behind quite a legacy of love. Grandchildren: Greg Johnston and wife Laura (Roanoke, VA), Denyse Anderson Oeltjenbruns (Garner, NC), Jason Anderson and wife Kari (Orlando, FL), Renae Anderson Keffer and husband Kendall (Salem, VA), Kelli Johnston Richardson and husband Scott (Troutville, VA). Great grandchildren: Luke, Brooke, and Cole Johnston; Evan and Lauren Oeltjenbruns; Jeremy and Drew Anderson; Grant, Ben, Elizabeth, and Nate Keffer; and Ryan Richardson.
In lieu of flowers and gifts, the family asks that you please consider getting your Covid vaccination in her memory as well as contribute to a local church or charity that is supporting those in need during this Pandemic. Arrangements for her celebration of life will be announced at a later date.