Allena “Big Mama” Duree, artist and poet, passed away on Wednesday, September 8, 2021, in Baton Rouge of natural causes. She was 95. With her regal grace and violet eyes, one could not doubt that Allena descended from kings and emperors, as further evinced in her life filled with tragedy and passion to challenge the gods. Her deep yet quiet spirituality she shared with the world through her art—whether paintings, sculptures, or the ethereal beauty of her poetry: timeless words written in present moments, gifts to eternity. Allena Louise Hopwood was born November 9, 1925, in Joplin, MO, the youngest of three daughters. Her father Sidney was an entrepreneur, salesman, and former private detective; and her mother, Pearl (Fox) Hopwood, kept house. “Allene” attended Joplin High School where she demonstrated an early interest in poetry as a member of the Sapphonians. She and her sisters came of age at the height of the Great Depression, and their mother took in boarders to help support them as Sidney Hopwood’s health declined. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, she left school when just 16 to marry the first of four husbands, Tech. Sgt. Carroll Pattison, in January of 1942 before his deployment to the European Theater. They divorced soon after the end of World War II. In 1947 she married Jack Duree, with whom she moved to Baton Rouge in 1954. After Mr. Duree’s tragic death in a car crash at the age of 29, the young widow rushed home to Joplin with her two children. In 1956, she returned to Baton Rouge with husband number three, William “Bill” Grant, to pursue historical litigation against the State of Louisiana in the wrongful death of Mr. Duree. In 1967, she and Mr. Grant divorced and she wed rising attorney Jack Yelverton immediately thereafter. She made Baton Rouge her home for the rest of her life, even after that fourth and final marriage dissolved after ten years. In addition to her gifts for art and poetry, she was a natural athlete. For decades she indulged her passions for horseback riding, swimming, and boating or waterskiing on False River. Although she loved her horses, dogs owned her heart. She briefly worked as a legal secretary at her husband’s law firm, but her primary occupation was the breeding and training of dogs, from teacup toy poodles to champion Irish setters. She was a pioneer of what would come to be known as “designer dogs” with her adorable peekapoo and cockapoo puppies. Late in life, she even developed an affinity for cats. She proudly described herself as a lifelong Yellow Dog Democrat and remained steadfast in her values and support for social justice even whilst standing by her politically ambitious Republican husband. Although she had been active in the Methodist Church in both Joplin—where her mother was a founding member—and Baton Rouge, in middle age she converted to Catholicism, receiving her confirmation at St. Aloysius Church in her fifties. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, she volunteered at St. Aloysius and as a Pink Lady at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. She received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction days before Hurricane Ida’s landfall. She leaves behind two daughters, Diane Duree Halvorson and husband, Lawrence, of Baton Rouge; and Lisa Grant Kenney of French Settlement. She is also survived by five grandchildren: Kelly Triche Saucier and husband, Craig, of Mandeville; Joel Dane Pattison and wife, Kim, of Central; Donovan Pattison Smith of St. Francisville; Ian Kenney and wife, Janie, of Central; and Hollie Kenney Taylor and husband, Michael, of Baton Rouge; 15 great-grandchildren: Sydney Offner and husband, Brent, of Brooklyn, NY; Gabrielle LeBlanc of Hoboken, NJ; Amy Wolschlag and husband, Drew, of Geismar; Cole Pattison and wife, Emma, of Lincolnton, NC; Koral Heltz and husband, Aaron, of Denham Springs; Zane and Caleb Smith of St. Francisville; Damian Kenney of Central; Carson Pattison of Central; Axel Pattison of St. Francisville; Allena Merritt and Madeline Merritt of Baton Rouge; McKayla Kenney of Central; and Ava Merritt and Wyatt Merritt of Baton Rouge; as well as great-great-grandchildren Camilla Pattison, Elliot Offner, and Makenzie Wolschlag. In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband, Jack Wayne Duree; her three ex-husbands; son, Michael Dane Pattison; and sisters Geraldine Fox Irving and Imogene Hopwood Headlee. A memorial celebrating her life will be held at 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, September 16, at St. Aloysius Catholic Church. Inurnment will follow at Resthaven Gardens of Memory in Baton Rouge. Covid protocols (e.g. masks, social distancing) will be observed, and attendees are requested to refrain from hugging, kissing, and shaking hands during the ceremonies. Donations may be made in her memory to the American Brain Foundation, 201 Chicago Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55415. The family wish to thank Fr. Randy Cuevas, Pastor of St. Aloysius; Director of Worship Ken Thevenet; and, most particularly, Anne with an E.
“The Artist gave it with his heart that all the world may see. The Poet gave it with his soul and touched Eternity.”