Teresa “Tita” deGavre

Mrs. Teresa “Tita” deGavre died peacefully at her home, Deep Creek Plantation, on Oct. 1, 2022. She was 108.
Tita was born in May 1914 in Oxford, England, the daughter of Gordon McLeod Cameron, a highly decorated officer in the Royal Navy, and Theresa Knowles Cameron. She grew up in Hayling Island in the south of England, sailing and exploring the Island’s marshes. At an early age she became what would be termed today “a naturalist,” perhaps a tomboy, with saltwater flowing through her veins.
In September 1937 she married Oliver Thompson, an officer with the Royal Sussex Regiment. She had first met him in 1928 on leave from India at his family home at Castlegarde in Ireland. They settled in Fairford in the Cotswolds and had two children, Timothy born in 1938 and Robert in 1940.
Following declaration of war in 1939, Oliver was sent to Northern France where he was badly wounded and evacuated through Dunkirk. Tita hoped that his war was over, but that was not to be. In 1943 he was ordered to North Africa as commander of a battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. A year later, now in Italy, Lt. Colonel “Tommy” Thompson led his soldiers in a bloody cross-river assault on Monte Cassino. He was awarded Britain’s second highest medal, the DSO (Distinguished Service Order), which was later personally given by King George VI to his son Timothy in Buckingham Palace.
In early June, he was killed in action near Rome. In recent years, Tita would recall the agony of coming downstairs at her home in Fairford and seeing on the dining room table a yellow telegram from the Ministry of Defense.
The War years were tough. Rationing made it difficult to feed her two boys. She joined laborers in the fields harvesting vegetables.
In 1946, Tita met Chet deGavre, a Colonel in the U.S. Army, at a dance at a British military base. Chet was smitten and in the days that followed searched the nearby towns for the “widow Thompson.” One Sunday afternoon he appeared at her Fairford home bearing a gift, a miniature shorebird that he had carved.
Chet totally captivated Tita and in 1949 they were married near his home in New Jersey. As an Army wife, Tita lived in many locations. She remembered most fondly her years in Ethiopia – exploring, hunting, and camping in remote parts of the country. Tita painted, rode a donkey for days to the sunken churches of Lalibela, collected Coptic Christian crosses, fed her pet gazelles, dazzled the diplomatic parties, and dismissed the machine guns and mortars set up in her yard when the Ethiopian Army revolted.
In 1959, Tita purchased Deep Creek Plantation at auction. Deep Creek became her home and a dream realized. After Chet — now a Brigadier General — retired in 1963, they both threw themselves into its restoration. Tita painted, wall-papered, embroidered, and created a magnificent garden of roses and flowers. Recognized for her experiments with organic gardening and the propagation of plants, she was awarded the coveted Horticulture Award of Merit from the Garden Club of Virginia. The president of the Garden Club later wrote that “her striking beauty is something seen from the inside out.”
Chet – besides pursuing his carving of waterfowl miniatures – built book cabinets and reproduction antique furniture and moved dilapidated ancient barns and dwellings onto the property and restored them. Deep Creek Plantation became the star attraction of the annual Garden Week tour. And squeezed among these busy days was time spent on the water boating, raising honeybees and sheep, enjoying their grandchildren, and worshipping at St. James Episcopal Church where Tita served for many years as its warden. These were very fulfilling times for both of them. And Chet and Tita adored and greatly respected each other.
As the years passed, Chet’s health and mobility declined. His hands could no longer paint his miniature waterfowl carvings. In 1993 Chet passed away.
Many years later, she re-met Don Paradis, whom she and Chet had known in Ethiopia. He nurtured Tita’s intellect and love for classical music. She moved into his retirement home in Collington, Md., in 2005, returning one week each month to her beloved Deep Creek. Five years later Don passed away and Tita promptly returned home.
In June 2018 Tita injured her hip and subsequently was confined to bed at Deep Creek. A group of exceptional ladies lovingly cared for her. Though physically diminished, she attracted universal warmth and respect. As Tita’s minister wrote, “I so loved (her) clarity, her self-critical and inquisitive mind and such a passion for the life she inhabited, even as it has been in these later years.”
Tita remained to the very end an original. It has been a God-given privilege for all who met her to have known her.
She is survived by her two sons, five grandchildren, a step-grandchild, and eight great-grandchildren.
A memorial celebration will be held at the St. James Episcopal Church in Accomac early next month, with specific information shared when available.
Memory tributes may be shared with the family at www.williamsfuneralhomes.com
Arrangements are by the Williams-Onancock Funeral Home.
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