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Loretta Look James

Obituary for Loretta Look James

July 8, 1931 - July 19, 2019
San Antonio, Texas | Age 88


Loretta Look James died peacefully at home on July 19, 2019, less than 2 weeks after celebrating her 88th birthday with her children and grandchildren. She was born on July 8, 1931 into a prominent banking family in Hong Kong, the first child of Man Wai Look and Fung Ying Chui. Loretta was born when her mother was only 7 months pregnant and her health was so precarious that a tiny coffin was built for her on three different occasions in her first year alone. However, she fought hard to survive and so began a life of repeatedly "beating the odds."

As was customary in those days, her parents had agreed for her to be married into another wealthy Asian family. Ever the headstrong, independent woman, Loretta refused to submit to the arranged marriage and instead left everything and everyone she knew behind to move to the United States with the true love of her life, GySgt Lee Roy James, USMC. Loretta and Lee had been married for only 8 years and had 3 children together and were six months pregnant with their fourth child when Lee was killed in action in Vietnam. A single parent with no resources living in a foreign country, Loretta dedicated her life to raising their four children to be hard-working, honest and educated professionals, fulfilling the promise she had made to Lee when he left for Vietnam.

Always a resourceful woman, Loretta spent countless hours in the local public library studying real estate and eventually became a licensed real estate agent in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. She soon combined her real estate expertise with her passion for cooking and opened the first of several Chinese restaurants that she would own in her lifetime. In each of her restaurants, she put her children to work in various jobs so that they would learn the values of hard work, discipline, serving others and, most importantly, the unwavering sense of family and teamwork she insisted her children have between them.
During her years in D.C., Loretta became known to many as a power broker in the Asian business community. She opened her home to new immigrants for months on end and shared everything she owned and everything she knew with those in need. She personally mentored and supported young families in business, and many went on to open their own successful businesses. She even mediated and resolved disputes among business leaders in Washington's Chinatown – and was referred to by many as "Dai Gu Ma," or "Great Auntie," a term of high regard and respect. At home, she was Mom to not only her own children, but also to many of her children's friends, always opening up her home and "holding court" at her kitchen table, dispensing hours of wisdom and no-nonsense advice. She was well known for whipping up 10 course meals "just in case you want a snack" so these childhood friends continued to stop by "Mama J's" house well into their adulthood for some good food and her special brand of love and advice.

With her unwavering support and guidance, her oldest son Tom was the first ever in generations of the James family to attend college and he later became an attorney. Her oldest daughter Tia became a doctor, her second son Teddy owns his own business and her youngest child Tina is a business executive. As soon as Tina left for college, Loretta sold her businesses and began enjoying her hard earned retirement. She played countless hours of Mah Jong with her friends, continued to help local business leaders get established and flourish, and did everything she could to support her children's success.
In 1998, Loretta was instrumental in an investigation where one of her closest friends had disappeared. Despite her children's warnings that "Mom's been reading too many murder mysteries," Loretta convinced the state's attorney that her friend had been murdered rather than simply disappearing as the defense argued. The result was that it was the first time in Maryland history that a suspect was convicted of murder without the victim's body ever being recovered and one of the first cases in the United States where DNA evidence was admitted to prove a homicide.
In 2008, Loretta suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm, which is fatal in 95% of cases. In keeping with her indomitable spirit and feisty personality, she fought to survive and returned home to be with her family after being in a coma for several months after the surgery to repair the aneurysm. Shortly thereafter, she moved to San Antonio, Texas to live with her youngest daughter Tina, but returned home to the DC area as often as she could.
Loretta is survived by her four children: Thomas James (fiancée Frances), Theressa "Tia" James Pappas (husband Jeff), Theodore "Wong Moe" James (wife Cheryl) and Tina James Grazioli (husband Dom, whom Loretta considered one of her own). Her children were her greatest pride and joy and a source of infinite inspiration to her, especially when she was literally fighting for her life. In turn, her children feel eternally blessed to have had a mother as strong and wise and full of unconditional love as Loretta was. On July 19, 2019, we are sure Lee greeted her in Heaven with a resounding "well done, my love, well done!" She is also survived by her 12 grandchildren: Michael Jarvis, Alex Jarvis, David James, Christine James, Stephen Jarvis, Michael James, Stephanie James, Topher James, Melissa Nowitzky, Dominic Grazioli, Rebekah Nowitzky and Lauren Grazioli; her brother Peter Luk and her countless friends, most especially our family friend Lora Shelton, who cared so deeply for Grandma in her final years.

Loretta's impact on others and her life's legacy will long be remembered by all who knew her. We will especially remember the greatest lessons she taught us through her own actions:
There is nothing more important than family.
No matter how little we have, we always have enough to share.
There is nothing more powerful than a positive attitude, regardless of your circumstances.
And finally… dance like no one's watching, march to your own drummer and there is no such thing as too much jewelry!

A Celebration of Loretta's Life will be held on Saturday, July 27, 2019 at 11am at the Greater San Antonio Builders Association on Paesano's Parkway, followed by a luncheon for all who wish to attend.

In lieu of flowers, guests are welcome to make donations to the Young Women's Leadership Academy of San Antonio.

Loretta will be buried with her beloved Lee in Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.


Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, VA 22211

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  • Young Women's Leadership Academy of San Antonio
    2123 W Huisache Ave
    San Antonio, TX 78201

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Porter Loring Mortuary North

2102 North Loop 1604 East
San Antonio, TX 78232
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