Cathy Walata Surette has a laminated photo on her refrigerator of her mother, Lydia Walata, who is standing with her good friend and long-time School Committee colleague Morris Seigal and chatting with U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.
A lifelong Chelsea resident, Lydia (Belofsky) Walata socialized with people in all walks of life and was admired by all. A member of the Chelsea School Committee for 19 years, Mrs. Walata died on Sept. 12, 2013 after a lengthy illness.
The daughter of Russian immigrants Frank and Julia Belofsky, Lydia Walata was born on Arlington Street before the family moved to Bloomingdale Street. She attended the Carter School and graduated from Chelsea High in 1949. Mrs. Walata was fluent in Russian.
Married to Walter Walata, owner of the Walata Funeral Home on Washington Avenue, Mrs. Walata was able to spend a lot of quality time with her two children, Kathy and Mark.
“My mother was the one who took Mark and me everywhere – Canobie Lake, Nantasket Beach,” said Kathy Walata. “My really raised us.”
Cathy Surette paid tribute to her mother’s love and devotion during a touching eulogy.
“Everybody loves their mother but honestly and it’s not a cliché, she was my best friend, especially when my son Kris was born [to Kathy and her husband, Joseph Surette], and I didn’t know anything about being a mother,” she was really like my mentor. I told everybody at the memorial observance that I hope that I was half the mother to Kristopher as she was to me because I had a great childhood.
Walter and Lydia Walata highlighted the importance of education to their children, Kathy and Mark, who are both college graduates. Kathy is a graduate of Chelsea High and Salem State University and is a teacher at the Shurtleff School, the school she attended as a child.
Mark is a graduate of Malden Catholic and Northeastern University and works in banking.
“Education was the big thing and my parents stressed it but they didn’t push it,” said Cathy Surette. “It wasn’t like you have to get As and attend this particular school. I was accepted to Boston University and Suffolk and I chose Salem State. My father went to BU.”
Cathy and Joseph Surette brought joy to the family with the birth of their son, Kristopher Surette. A handsome young man who inherited the family gift of warmth in personality and generosity to others, Kristopher, 26, a graduate of Merrimack College who works as a civil engineer.
“The best gift I could’ve given her ever was Kristopher,” said Cathy Surette. “That was my mother’s pride and joy. She was an awesome grandmother. Like my parents did with my brother and me, I’ve tried to teach Kristopher responsibility, respect, and not to take things for granted. Things go full circle. That’s exactly how we raised Kristopher.”
Mrs. Walata was a member of the church choir and the women’s guild and a lifelong parishioner at St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox Church on Addison Street. She enjoyed playing cards and candlepin bowling with friends such as Carole Pawlak. She was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary at the Polish Veterans Club.
She took her service on the Chelsea school board very seriously while also participating on numerous committees and attending school-related events where she would take the time to praise students for their efforts.
“She honestly believed in the kids and tried her best on the School Committee,” said Surette. “She used to come the first few days of school and help me set up my classroom. She was so proud. She really thought that every kid deserved the same chance at success in life.”
Lydia Walata and Walter Walata, who died unexpectedly on Sept. 19, 2013, would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in February.
“They were a happy, loving couple who were never separated and were always together,” said Surette. “What my father did for mother the past six years during her debilitating illness, it amazed me. He never wanted her in a nursing home ever. He did everything for her. It was amazing how his love for her came out at the latter part of their years when she couldn’t appreciate it.”
Though the Walatas could have moved to a more affluent community, they chose to remain in Chelsea and lived in a home on Marlboro Street where they resided for 56 years.
“They could have left Chelsea and my father could have driven a Porsche if he wanted, but my parents, especially my father, grew up extremely humble,” said Cathy Surette. “They lived a very humble life and that’s what they tried to teach Mark and me.”
Mrs. Walata began to experience the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease six years ago and her health declined in the ensuing years.
“It was heartbreaking – Alzheimer’s is a horrible, horrible illness,” said Surette. “She wasn’t in pain but it was tortuous for the family. Such a strong woman just disintegrating in front of you, it was terrible to watch.”
Cathy Surette was asked why people – from personal friends to colleagues on the School Committee like Morris Seigal and Rosemarie Carlisle to fellow parishioner at the church, to residents who gave her substantial votes in elections, came to admire her mother so much.
“My mother wasn’t a phony and I started following her footsteps,” said Surette. “My mother wasn’t a hypocrite. She was really authentic. She told it like it was. She always put people ahead of herself. She always wanted everyone to like her and never wanted to hurt anybody.”
Lyida Walata accomplished so much in a kind and gentle way during a long and wonderful life. The outpouring of mourners and well-wishers at her funeral service was a testament to the love and admiration they had for this humble woman from Chelsea.