Again, cancer has won. Donna Lorraine Lutey, 70, the toughest woman we’ve ever known, stepped away from the kitchen table Sunday morning to lay down in her easy chair, for just a minute, which turned into hours and then midnight as we clutched her hands and counted her breaths to the very last, 11 minutes into Oct. 28.
We are adrift without her.
It was Donna Lutey who put the extra plate on the table for anyone without a home on Christmas, kept a candle burning for every dying friend, and started every day praying through a list of people in need of strength, courage and mercy. Donna kept her own struggles to herself.
She was a bookkeeper, a merchant, construction company owner and school teacher in her time. Donna was the kind of person you hired to do your payroll, but soon brought your personal confessions. She was, as one business friend put it, everyone’s best supporting actress, gracefully bringing out your best.
Donna encouraged the young women in her life to become anything they wanted. And when you have your doubts, she would say, just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and find me in the silence.
She was a fighter. Her bouts with cancer spanned 26 years, in between which doctors diagnosed Donna with multiple sclerosis, and her husband, Tom, became a double amputee. She would retreat to her bedroom beleaguered well after midnight only to rise in the morning like pugilist with no other option but to go for a knockout.
“I need to get going,” she would say in the morning, to the amazement of everyone who watched her weight slip to 70 pounds and her hair thin to just a wisp of gray after more than 18 months of chemotherapy and radiation.
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We credited Donna’s strength and her infirmities to a difficult childhood. Her rarely sober father, Donald Spieth, had once been driven to the Idaho state line by Gallatin County deputies, who told him never to return. Though her father did return, hidden under a blanket in the backseat of the family Pontiac as Donna’s mother, Grace, drove. The air in their northside Bozeman home swirled blue from floor to ceiling with the exhaust of Grace’s no-filter Pall Malls.
Donna was constantly correcting doctors who assumed she smoked and that her cancer was the result of poor life decisions.
She pushed through adversity like a daisy through cracked asphalt. Donna was the first person in her family to receive a college education, paid for mostly with mayonnaise jars full of her mother’s beauty shop tips. Donna did so married and with a child from the midpoint of her freshman year, and still graduated in four years with a teaching degree. She was always an A student.
Donna is preceded in death by her husband of 45 years, Tom Lutey, who died from a stroke in 2013. They were sweethearts who met at a Montana State University dance, a Bozeman girl and a lanky Butte guy who just kept showing up on her parent’s doorstep.
Her parents, Donald and Grace Spieth, and brother Jerry Buskirk, preceded her as well.
Donna is survived by sons Thomas (wife Teresa), of Billings, and Shane (wife Whitney) Lutey, of Bozeman, and their children Kestley, Clayton and Addison.
A memorial service will be held at noon Sunday, Nov. 17, at Beall Park Art Center in Bozeman. The family requests in lieu of flowers that memorial donations be given in Donna Lutey’s name to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, or the American Cancer Society.