Deborah Jane Bassett Piowaty left this life on November 19, 2022, at the age of 95. The daughter of Harvey T. Bassett and Irma Langlois Bassett, she was born in Detroit on November 5, 1927. The daughter of an attorney, she was born into a life of privilege, but the Great Depression changed everything. Her childhood was a riches to rags story, and the lessons of those hard times shaped her outlook on life. Deborah embraced charity as her life’s ethos. She taught her children not to be dependent upon money for their happiness and that from whom much is given, much is expected.
Deborah married her husband of 64 years, James W. Piowaty, in 1951 and moved to Ft. Pierce, FL. They met just before WWII, when she was 14 and he was 16. Jim came back after the war and had to propose four times before Deborah finally said yes. As a northerner, the stark realities of the Jim Crow South appalled her. She knew that life as a farmer’s wife in a small southern town was a going to be a difficult adjustment. Deborah always referred to marrying and moving from Detroit to Fort Pierce as “when she got married and moved to hell.” Once, when newly married, an invitation to join the Ft. Pierce Women’s Club was rescinded after she introduced herself and shook hands with a club member’s housekeeper. No matter their station in life, Deborah embraced everyone.
In her new married life, Deborah saw firsthand the struggles of farmworkers and the black community at large. Upon discovering that many workers’ children were routinely left alone while their parents toiled long-hours in the fields, she decided that something must be done. Deborah and Jim raised the funds and spearheaded the building of the Lincoln Park Child Care Center, which was the first daycare in the black part of town. Once completed, Deborah visited several times a week, often taking her children with her, to check on operations. Her involvement with the black community wasn’t popular, but she wasn’t afraid to pay the price for her convictions.
Soon after moving to Fort Pierce, Deborah found a creative outlet working as a radio broadcaster. She had her own radio show, “Deb’s Datebook” on WIRA and wrote, recorded and produced radio commercials for local stores and businesses. Deborah continually pushed the boundaries of her small-town life. Through creativity and perseverance, what was once her hell became her home.
In the late 1960’s, Deborah was one of the founding members of the League of Women Voters of St. Lucie County. Her work with the League expanded her horizons and lead to life-long engagement with causes that helped the poor, the environment, farm workers, women’s issues and prison ministry. She also spent many years as a volunteer at Mustard Seed Ministries and as a Hospice volunteer.
Deborah was a brilliant woman who, had she been born in a different era, could have pursued any career. She had an insatiable curiosity and read mountains of books. However, instead of a professional career, she became a wife and the loving, dedicated mother of Timothy Piowaty (Aurora), Sabrey Bone (Charles), Susan Piowaty (Joseph) and Kathleen Fredrick (Gregory decd). She loved her children unconditionally and they knew it. Deborah had 6 surviving grandchildren, Jessica Edwards, Ciara James, Katherine Piowaty, Corinne Fredrick, Devin Vasquez, Adam Vasquez and 6 great-grandchildren. She was proceeded in death by her husband, James W. Piowaty and grandchildren Tara Piowaty and Brian Piowaty.
Deborah was a woman of deep faith, who lived that faith on a daily basis. She believed in the power of prayer and sought God’s guidance in all she did. Whenever one of her children sought her advice, she told them to pray about it and then to do their prayerful best. A member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church for 71 years, she taught Sunday School for countless years and was a member of The Daughters of the King.
Deborah made the words of Matthew 25: 34-40 her guide. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me. Truly I tell you, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.” Deborah believed that the world would be a better place if we all lived by these words, and she was right.
Friends wishing to pay their respects may call on the family on December 8, 4-6 PM at Haisley Hobbs Funeral Home, 3015 Okeechobee Rd., Ft Pierce. A service will be held at 10 AM, Friday, Dec. 9 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 210 S. Indian River Dr., Ft. Pierce; reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, please consider a charitable donation to Mustard Seed Ministries 3130 S. US #1, Ft. Pierce, FL 34982 or the Boys and Girls Club of S.L.C., 3104 Ave. J, Ft. Pierce FL 34947.