Feb 4, 2014, 6:40 PM EDT
The drag racing world is mourning the death of Pat Garlits, wife of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who passed away Sunday at the age of 79, according to the Leesburg (Fla.) Daily Commercial.
Often called “drag racing’s first lady,” Pat Garlits was a constant fixture at her husband’s side as he become one of the sport’s all-time greats. She died at the couple’s home in Ocala, Fla., near the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, following a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease and dementia, the newspaper reported.
“My dear wife of nearly 61 years left this world this afternoon,” Don Garlits wrote in an email to the Daily Commercial on Sunday. “She has been suffering a lot these last few days and it was a blessing to see God take her into his care.”
Don Garlits and the couple’s two daughters, Donna Garlits and GayLyn Capitano, along with Pat Garlits’ sister Sharon Keppel and granddaughter Anna Capitano were all at Pat Garlits’ side when she passed away.
Don Garlits, now 82, met the former Patricia Louise Bieger in 1952 at a lake near Tampa, according to the Daily Commercial.
“I took one look. She was the girl of my dreams,” he said.
The couple would have celebrated their 61st anniversary on Feb. 20.
“She loved her man with all her heart, body and soul and never thought of anyone else but him,” Donna Garlits wrote in a letter. “She was at dad’s side through every win, loss, crash, you name it, she was there.”
Pat Garlits is survived by her husband, daughters and sister, as well as grandchildren Kirsten Capitano Watley, Rodney Donald Garlits, Sarah Lyn Smith, Benjamin Gregory Capitano and Anna Elizabeth Capitano; and great-grandchild Braden Alexander-James Garlits.
A memorial service will be held Saturday afternoon at Grace Presbyterian Church in Ocala.
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