Leta Woloshuk, part of the popular musical duo The Urban Gypsies of Florida, passed away May 21, just one day after her 46th birthday, after a battle with breast cancer.
Life partner and fellow musician, Barney Waterbury, held and sang to her for 52 hours before her passing.
“I think she was this wild mare. She was an adventurer, never afraid of anything,” Waterbury said. “I called her ‘The Lovely Leta.”
Characteristically, Leta blew into St. Petersburg from Santa Fe, New Mexico during the middle of a Florida hurricane in 1998.
“Leta came to Florida for her; she stayed for her too,” Waterbury said.
She was 24, and spending her last $20 on drums in a Madeira Beach coffee shop, when she ran into Waterbury. For that 1990s weekend, the two danced, drummed and sailed Waterbury’s 32-foot sailboat into what he calls “the middle of nowhere,” during the “summer of love.”
In reality, it was the Gulf of Mexico during a storm, and the two ended up spending 18 days on the water.
“Ever since, we never left each other’s side,” Waterbury said. “She was a desert rat – couldn’t swim – but we fell in love.”
The sailboat, now weathered with age, is being fixed up and renamed.
“The Lovely Leta” is Waterbury’s first choice.
The Gulfport Years
The Urban Gypsies of Florida started in 1997 as an entanglement of seven music makers – mostly young people vying for a connection with music on the stage.
By 2021, the group had evolved to be Waterbury and Woloshuk, mainly singing songs the couple wrote together.
Wherever they were, often recently at The North End Taphouse or other free-spirited local pub, people listened to their folksy sound and original songs about suitcases or childhood memories.
When she wasn’t performing, Leta was healing people, either with her hands or her words.
“I would always say, ‘What Would Leta Do?’” Waterbury recalls. “She had like a book of sayings….I remember I was being hateful to her one day, as men can be, and she said ‘What comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart,’ and I remember how much that hit me.”
The Santa Fe native wore bohemian clothing, long skirts, and her heart on her sleeve.
Lovely Leta Lives On
In Waterbury’s words, “people have to get real jobs eventually.”
So did the Urban Gypsies.
Woloshuk too, grew up, and eventually she and her partner bought a house, built on the same property as her healing business, The Art of Massage.
“She was a healer, a fixer – all she wanted was to help people get better,” Waterbury said.
There, Woloshuk was only able to complete three massages before she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She was a force to be reckoned with,” said 17-year-old Isabella Kontrick, whose mother worked with Woloshuk as a masseuse. “Everyone who interacted with her wanted to be better; she made me see things about myself that I didn’t know.”
Woloshuk and the teenager, who often spent hours at Leta’s home and garden her mother’s work, formed an unlikely bond.
“When the coronavirus hit, my mom was working with her closely, and I would go with my mom to help,” Kontrick said. “I would talk to [Leta] in the garden. She was good at threading in life lessons; she taught me the power of simplicity.
“I’m gonna miss those conversations, and hearing her voice.”
Waterbury plans to have a celebration of her life and spread Leta’s ashes in the future, but not just yet.
“I’m going to wait till I need people the most; right now I’m high on her memory,” Waterbury said. “When people die, everyone shows up, but eventually I’ll be all alone.”
For now, you can catch a glimpse of her memory and her banjo on stage. Follow the Urban Gypsies of Florida at facebook.com/UrbanGypsiesOfFlorida.