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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Olivia Cater: A Big Kid

Catherine Cloutier |
November 3, 2009 | 8:15 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter
Olivia Cater loved to decorate for the holidays. When Halloween rolled around each year, she would climb on chairs to hang spider webs, fill the house with pumpkins, and sometimes ask her husband of 16 years Darnell Cater to hang decorations from the ceiling.

More than 50 people
have died of swine flu in
Los Angeles County.
We feature some of
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Daniel Hernandez
Olivia Cater

"I would tease her about being a big kid," Darnell Cater said.

Olivia, who was 50, loved people, loved having company flood her home, and loved laughing. In fact, when asked how she put up with her husband, a self-described class clown, she would say, "He keeps me laughing."

The love she felt for people extended beyond those she knew. "Olivia never had a bad thing to say about anybody," Darnell said. "She wanted to give people the benefit of the doubt. I used to say to her 'Your naïveté is refreshing.'"

Olivia was born in Zimbabwe. In July 2008, she obtained American citizenship. Before hanging her framed citizenship document on the wall of the couple's Los Angeles home, Olivia cut an American flag into a heart and placed it above the document.

Darnell said his wife lived passionately and fully, but that she also hated to wait for rides.

In early May, Olivia decided to forgo waiting an hour for a taxi and take the No. 2 bus home from a dentist appointment. Later that night, Olivia complained that several people coughed without covering their mouths on the bus.

A few days later, Olivia started sneezing. At first, Darnell believed it was a cold. When the symptoms worsened, he took Olivia to the doctor.

The doctor's prescriptions failed to alleviate Olivia's sickness, and on May 17, Olivia checked in at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

Despite Darnell's concern, Olivia assured him that she would be fine. Having just recovered from a bout of cancer, she was well accustomed to hospital visits. "She said to me, 'You know me. I'm a trooper,'" Darnell said.

Olivia was diagnosed with an infected lung, a complication of influenza. On May 27, Olivia died.

"She beat everything and then for this to come along and take her..." said Darnell.

Right after her death, the broadcast media reported that the first African-American woman had died from swine flu. Darnell was swarmed with calls asking if that person was Olivia. He maintained that she died of influenza.

Three days after Olivia's death, Darnell received word from her physician that she had died from swine flu.

The attendance at Olivia's memorial service was a testament of how much her love of people was reciprocated. Friends and loved ones travelled to the Hollywood church from out of state. Her doctor of 16 years canceled appointments to be there. People stopped by on their lunch breaks. Some even rushed right over after receiving an e-mail about her death.

"I remember thinking 'Wow, she had that many friends. That many people cared about her,'" Darnell said.

Visit the summary page for a complete collection of our swine flu stories.

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