By Meredith Hoffman
HARLEM — Though wheelchair-bound and nearly blind, Leonia White, 89, enjoyed neighborhood strolls in the later years of her life, and was thought of as a kind of celebrity in her apartment building on Seventh Avenue and 142nd Street before her life was ended by a car crash at a dangerous intersection.
"She said hi to everyone. She was a devout Catholic and a sensitive woman, and the Godmother of my wife," said Alvin Hawkins, 43, White's family friend. "I got brought to tears when I found out about the accident."
White died last week when a truck careened onto a sidewalk at 145th Street and Seventh Ave. and hit her. She was remembered at a memorial service Monday night outside her Seventh Ave. building.
For the past 39 years, White lived on the 17th floor of her public housing building, with a view of her congregation St. Charles Church out the window. Neighbors say she had two sons — Randy, who resides in Albany, and Victor, who lives in Manhattan, neighbors said. She'd also worked at St. Charles School, according to Rodney Askins, 56, who lived across the hall from White.
"She did everything for everybody, she was a beautiful lady," said Askins. "Yesterday he was buying food in the Fine Fare supermarket when he heard a car crash on the corner, ran outside, and saw White lying on the ground. "We couldn't believe it was her. What a horrible way to go."
"Her boyfriend was pushing her wheelchair. They were companions — everybody needs a companion," said Edward Bryant, another neighbor who'd help White with errands. "She used to live with her brother Benny but he died a few years ago, so she was living alone."
Bryant, 67, described White as thin, about 5'5", with short grey hair and an eye patch from cataract surgery.
"She was always talkative, smiling even in her wheelchair," said Sally Rivers, 87, another friend in the building.
"She was a teacher and a mentor for all," said Barbara Barber, president of the Drew Housing Development.