On October 8, 2023, this world lost a true steel magnolia and the loving matriarch of generations when Leta Barker Autrey flew free of suffering to her eternal home of light and healing. A woman of deep faith, she longed to be with Jesus Christ and the love of her life, Sam Autrey. The thought that she is there, radiant and joyful, is both a certainty and a comfort. Leta’s love for Christ was bright and clear. She believed in reaching out to others throughout her family, community, country, and world, to share the love of her Savior.
Born on November 3, 1928, Leta soon developed the determination that would define her throughout her life. As a student she worked hard, and graduated from the University of Houston, later earning graduate degrees from Northeast Louisiana University. Leta became a teacher at the age of eighteen. She met handsome and athletic Sam Autrey in college, and reported that on that day, he told a classmate, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.” Indeed he did, and Leta loved her husband fiercely for the next seventy years. They were blessed with three children, Sammye, Bill, and Marty. The late J.B. Fox and Terrie Queen Autrey were later welcomed into the fold by marriage to complete Leta’s children.
Leta had a passion for teaching and wanted each of her students to experience the love of learning. Her classrooms came alive with Leta’s creativity and energy. You could find her students learning how to square dance, reenacting a holiday feast, or earning their membership into Autrey's Little Angels, a high standard which many achieved. She taught all of her own children during their school years, and each of them believes her to be the best teacher they ever had. Upon learning of her death, dozens of her students from throughout the years have contacted the family.
“She transformed my life,” “She made me believe in myself,” and “She expected the best of me,” are only a few of the things they have shared.
Leta’s love for teaching and guiding young lives was not limited to the classroom. In every church the family attended, she worked with the youth. With her combination of unwavering faith, high expectations, and strong belief in their potential, many teens came to love this woman with the enormous heart.
Leta loved her own children unequivocally, and also gave them a love for learning and travel. She spent countless hours planning summer vacations to majestic, historical, and fascinating places throughout our country, her family of five and a German Shepherd traveling in a small camper. She also loved the water, and spent many years alongside the crystal shores of Waukaway Springs near Laurel, Mississippi with her children, and walking beside the gulf coast near Waveland, Mississippi with her husband.
Leta followed Sam Autrey through his career in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Instead of complaining, she saw these moves as an opportunity to learn new things, serve in new churches, and meet new friends. With a lively curiosity and a natural warmth, she drew others easily into deep conversation, which has lovingly been described as a “low-level interrogation.”
When Leta’s six granddaughters arrived, she happily retired from teaching to assume the role of the most dedicated, fun, and loving grandmother ever known. Shelley, Kelyn, Jess, Jenny, Emerald and Autumn all grew under the interest, devotion, nurture, and prayers of their beautiful grandmother.
In her final days, Leta gave her children the ultimate gift: time to be with her together, to use their unique talents to care for her, to listen to her stories, to laugh, to cry, and to pray. Her prayers were heard. She now rests in the light of Jesus, tucked back under the strong arm of her one true love, Sam Autrey.
Leta was predeceased by her beloved husband, Sam Bridges Autrey, and her son-in-law, J.B. Fox. She is survived by her children, Sammye Fox, Bill Autrey (Terrie), and Marty Autrey; her six granddaughters, Shelley Crowder (Ben), Kelyn Freudiger (Kevin), Jess Gamez (Jeremy), Jenny Tarr (Brad), Emerald Price (Matt), and Autumn Autrey; eleven great-grandchildren, Kannon & Kambell Freudiger, Ava Crowder, Sam & Sky Gamez, Harper, Dylan, River, & Ronin Tarr, and Holden & Kenzie Price, and numerous extended and loved family members.
The family will hold a private service in the future, and extends heartfelt thanks to all who have reached out with condolences and loving memories. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to one of the following ministries which Leta supported with prayers, service, and giving:
Waukaway Springs Christian Retreat Center, 189 Country Rd 2351, Vossburg, MS 39366