A Sarcastic Poker Player And Food Bank Volunteer: Family Remember A Kansas Citian Lost To The Pandemic
Renee Fletcher was recovering from a pulmonary embolism that doctors thought would kill her when the pandemic started.
Renee Fletcher was a glamorous woman — the former Miss Kansas City Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t leave her house without styling her stunning platinum blond hair.
“She was always there if you needed her. And later on when she was always there, even when you didn't want her or need her,” her daughter Tracy Noe joked.
Fletcher is among the more than 1,200 people the Kansas City metro lost to the pandemic. She was an involved mother to four kids, an organized packrat who put others before herself and a skilled poker player. Fletcher was spunky, sarcastic and a bit nosy, but she was also a do-gooder.
She spent more than a decade volunteering at food pantries in Independence, Missouri, stopping only for the coronavirus. Many families have struggled to put food on the table during the pandemic, making the loss on May 3, 2020, that much more tragic. She was 87.
A soccer mom and a wife
Fletcher was born in Independence in 1933. She was an exceptionally photogenic kid, with a big gap-toothed smile and bright blue eyes.
After high school, the National Intercollegiate Basketball tournament crowned her “Tip-Off Queen,” and she won a trip to New Orleans, where the mayor gave her a key to the city.
In 1954, she married Ernest Fletcher after dating for three months. They had four kids and Renee Fletcher was a stay-at-home for most of Noe’s childhood. Noe remembers her as an involved mother who was caring without being coddling.
“She was a soccer mom before we knew what one was,” Noe said.
When Noe was in high school, Fletcher decided to go back to work full time and got a job in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She was an active Christ United Methodist Church member. In her retirement, she spent many hours volunteering at the Community Service League and Harvesters.
Ernest Fletcher was a serious man but a doting husband. As a car salesman, he bought her a 1979 gold Cadillac Coupe DeVille so she could drive around in style. He had a “more is better” approach to fashion, and gifted his wife a long-sleeved, full-length dress, decked out with red and black sequins for her 25th high school reunion.
“This was hideous … My mother was mortified by it, but my father loved it and she wore it to her class reunion,” Noe said. “That really said a lot for her to wear a hideously ugly dress to her high school reunion.”
Noe said her mom could also be a bit secretive. Noe didn’t find out until much later in her life that her mom was adopted.
“She could go through some crazy interrogation and not break because she had some good secrets,” Noe said.
Fletcher had a big family — 10 grandchildren and 13 great-grandkids. Christmas was a huge deal, and Fletcher was always on the hunt for stocking stuffers, according to Scott Hotson.
Hotson’s mom moved in with Fletcher, who was her cousin, about five years ago. Hotson said one of Fletcher’s favorite places to go was Harbor Freight Tools, a discount hardware store.
“They advertise every day: ‘If you come in, you get a free something,’” Hotson said. “… She would go to Harbor Freight every day to get her free thing.”
She had drawers full of this stuff — measuring tapes, keychain flashlights, scissors, miniature levels. Every year she used them to fill stockings.
“We called it the murder kit. It came with a tarp, a flashlight, tape measure — all these different things you can get at Harbor Freight,” Noe said. “ … If you need to get rid of the body, you've got the tarp, you've got the flashlight. You had all the things you needed.”
Fletcher had a sarcastic sense of humor. On Saturday nights, she and MJ Brown, Scott’s mom, would host a penny poker game. Scott, his wife Heather and son Danny all went. Danny played his first penny poker hand in high school.
“You can just imagine the fun times that were had at poker with two old ladies … it was always a rotating cast of who would be there,” Danny Hotson said.
Fletcher made it a point to always count up her pennies at the end of the game, joking that she needed them for her house payment.
“If she lost, she’s like, ‘Oh how could you do that to somebody my age when you know I need that money,’” Heather Hotson said.
The Hotsons would host Fletcher and family members at a weekly Sunday dinner. Every year Fletcher would give Heather a bag of gloves and hats for her second-grade students at Procter Elementary School.
“When you have someone who's 86 who provides the spark and light and energy, that’s something special,” Scott Hotson said. “I don't know that people look forward to seeing me that much, and I’m only 56.”
Fletcher was a woman of steel. When she suffered from a pulmonary embolism this year, she had to be resuscitated three times. The doctor’s prognosis was grim, and her daughter flew in from Texas. They started discussing funeral arrangements.
“So they told us she would be brain dead,” Noe said. “Well, not her. No, she was not. She was not at all.”
She somehow managed to recover. When the pandemic hit, Fletcher was careful. She watched the news all the time — even though Noe told her mom to cut down on her news consumption and watch Friends instead.
Noe took care of your mom in her final months and would wipe down her groceries with Lysol. They were careful and stayed inside as much as possible.
In late April, Fletcher started to feel weak and lost her appetite. Her doctor wasn’t sure what was going on since Fletcher didn’t have a cough or shortness of breath. In May, her daughter took Fletcher to Saint Luke’s. It was there that she got tested for the coronavirus.
“I know when they told her that she had COVID, I knew she knew she was going to die and that's just hard, too because she was afraid of getting it,” Noe said.
She died May 3 in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
“It was really heartbreaking not to be able to have a funeral,” Noe said. “... She deserved a funeral … It would have been one of those where there would have been standing room only. There would've been a long line.”
When Danny Hotson sees the reporting on coronavirus deaths, he thinks of Fletcher and how each of the more than 1,200 people who have died in the Kansas City metro represents a story and a family left grieving.
“Having someone so close to me pass so soon in the pandemic, it has completely shaped the way I’ve seen all the restrictions and the commentary on coronavirus,” Hotson said. “To those people who say that ‘I don’t know someone who died from it’ — you shouldn’t have to know someone.”
The long lines at food banks remind him of Fletcher and his grandma MJ Brown who both gave so much of their time volunteering there. Brown died in 2019.
“If they were still here, they would be working even harder to give that food to the people who need it the most right now,” Hotson said.
When Fletcher died, her family asked for food donations in her honor. Her neighbors and friends rallied together and donated granola bars, mac and cheese and cereal. The food filled a large truck and Renee Fletcher was able to help feed families one last time.