Lillian Keeler, longtime resident of Camillus, died peacefully on May 15, 2020 at The Cottages at Garden Grove, Cicero. Lillian was born in Harlem on December 11, 1923 to Francesco “Frank” and Lucia “Lucy” Catricala, who emigrated from Italy at the turn of the 20th century. She grew up in Manhattan and the Bronx. After her marriage, she lived in Newark, NJ for many years before moving to Camillus with her family in 1969. Though Lillian lived in Camillus for 50 years, she was a proud New Yorker who considered New York City her home.
Lillian was a child of the Depression and was thrifty for her entire life. She never bought anything that wasn’t on sale and enjoyed visiting outlet stores. Shopping days would bring her to at least five different grocery stores for sale items. Lillian made a point of developing friendships with local butchers to the point that she exchanged Christmas cards with many.
A member of the Greatest Generation, Lillian turned 18 four days after Pearl Harbor and immediately went to work for the Navy Dept. During WWII she was a war plant inspector. Lillian valued education. She graduated early from high school and attended Hunter College before the war interrupted her studies. She was a gifted and aggressive athlete. At 5’1” she played center for her junior high basketball team.
Lillian worked for nearly her entire life. She was a tea room waitress in Manhattan, a business office representative for New York Telephone in their main Manhattan office, a telephone operator in Syracuse, a retail clerk, a clerk in the Onondaga County Clerk’s office, an Onondaga County Social Services examiner (where she filed paternity and child support claims) and she worked at one of the first Head Start programs in New Jersey. She was known as the “cake lady” for the beautiful birthday cakes she made for her co-workers. As a tea room waitress she learned how to tell fortunes by reading tea leaves. It was a skill she mis-used at family gatherings for the rest of her life.
Lillian loved to entertain and hosted her family’s annual reunions. She was a great cook and taught many younger friends and family the art of Italian cooking. Lillian made friends of all ages wherever she went. She was an easy conversationalist and no one was a stranger in her presence for more than 30 seconds. She was devoted to her friends. Her children were amazed for their entire lives by the number of people who told them “your mother is my dearest friend.”
Lillian volunteered for many organizations including the PTA, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Town Shop and NOW. She was on the Board of Directors of the Rape Crisis Center. Lillian was a charter member of NOW and a tireless advocate of Women’s Rights. In the 70s, she marched against the Syracuse Newspapers to protest the discriminatory system of listing classified job ads as male jobs or as female jobs.
Lillian was predeceased by her beloved husband of 50 years, Robert. He adored her and loved that she always got at least 50% of his jokes. She was also predeceased by her siblings, Eleanor, Mary, Anthony, Grace and Vincent.
Lillian is survived by her children, Kathryn Keeler and Steve (Carole) Keeler; and grandchildren, Lauren (Jacob) Motte, Ben Keeler and Becca Keeler. Her grandchildren were the center of her life and she took great pride in their achievements and exploits.
The family wants to thank the staff at The Cottages at Garden Grove for their compassionate care over the past year.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date.
Contributions in Lillian’s memory can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association of CNY, 441 W. Kirkpatrick St., Syracuse, NY 13204 or online at http://act.alz.org/goto/Lillian_Keeler or to the National Organization of Women, 1100 H St. NW, Washington, DC 20005 or online at NOW.org.