Before the children came along, she traveled with her husband. "If he went to Visalia, I went to Visalia. If he went to Portland, I went to Portland," she recalls. "When I married, that was it. I didn't care about anything else but that tall, 6-foot-3 1/2 man."
Still, finding herself at loose ends, she sought ways to fill her free time, landing at the Assistance League on St. Andrews Place in Hollywood.
"Sometimes it was office work, and sometimes it was assisting in the development of the young children," she says. She also loved going to the Assistance League because movie stars from 20th Century Fox, which was then nearby, would dine in its lunchroom.
Last month, the Dorothy E. Leavey Family Resource Center--home to such projects as Operation School Bell, which provides new children's clothing, books and toys--was dedicated at the league complex. The first $1 million for the $8 million pastel stucco building came from her personal funds. It is the only Leavey building, among at least seven stretching from Georgetown University to Santa Clara University, to bear her name alone.
Although she never completed college, Leavey has always been eager to learn.
"She has a curiosity about the world generally," says former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, a family friend whose teaching position at Georgetown is endowed by the Leavey Foundation. "She asked me about my classes, how they differ through the generations. About what Reagan was like to work for, and what it was like to represent the United States."
With her own alma mater so far away, Leavey has doted on her daughters'.
Earlier this month, dressed in a cream-colored suit and gold Ferragamos, she attended the dedication of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Library at USC. The foundation gave $9 million toward its construction.
Leavey Library, as the elegant concrete and brickwork building is known, is a four-story, $28-million electronic gateway to the world's library systems: Basement study rooms surround a soothing mauve-carpeted area with 100 computers.
On the ride home after a gourmet dedication lunch, Leavey announced to her companions that she was still hungry.
"Mrs. Leavey, we'll drive closer to home," said her caregiver.
"No, I want something \o7 right now\f7 ," Leavey insisted.
So she ate a burger and fries from Jack in the Box in the chauffeured gray Cadillac sedan.
These days Dorothy Leavey likes to sit at the top of her front steps and watch the world go by.
"I see people and I try to imagine how happy they are and so forth, and if they're doing anything right," Leavey says. "I just muse along with my own life in the background."
She regularly goes out to lunch at the Peninsula or the Four Seasons or Jimmy's, and in the summer to the Bel-Air Bay Club in Malibu. And at night she occasionally attends fund-raising events, or watches TV.
On a recent Saturday while watching "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," Leavey saw Dr. Quinn, played by Jane Seymour, get a kiss on the neck from the character Sully, a hunk who sleeps in the woods with his pet wolf.
"More, more," Leavey called out, as one of her home companions remembers it.
She has lived since 1950 in the house she and her husband painstakingly planned, down to the little cubbyhole built to muffle the phone off the dining room.
Several times a year she goes to Pala Rey, in north San Diego County, a 600-acre ranch and family retreat surrounded by orange and avocado trees that Tom Leavey bought about 1940.
Leavey thinks about turning 100 but doesn't dwell on it.
Shortly after arriving at USC on dedication day, she expertly maneuvered her wheelchair from her designated place at a table in the shade, seeking sunlight, warmth, the inevitable parade of family and friends. At ceremony's end, Marilyn Zumberge, widow of a university president, bent over Leavey's wheelchair. "I'm glad you could be here," she said with obvious emotion.
\o7 "So am I\f7 ,\o7 "\f7 came the reply.
Dorothy E. Leavey
Native?: No; born in Omaha, Neb.; raised in Cleveland, Chicago and Montana; lives in Beverly Hills.
Family: Widowed. Two daughters, Kathleen and Terry, who died in 1979; nine grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren.
Passions: Helping the needy, particularly children; her Catholic faith; horses; bright colors; hamburgers.
On why she gave $1 million to the Assistance League: "I don't know, other than the fact that it was needed. There have been some marvelous people in the Assistance League, and I was just one of the many that joined. . . . I think I'm one of the oldest members."
On her late husband, Thomas, and their work together: "He had such high ideals, and anything that I did in any charitable way or any athletic way, or any of that, he was right there."
On how it feels to be 98: "The funny part is, I don't feel any different at all. If I was bedridden a lot, and not being able to enjoy things, maybe it would be different, but I feel just like I did when I was 20 years old. I am just as interested in everything. . . . I still have my hair, my own hair, and I have my teeth too."