Eleanor “Ellie” Keohane, who while raising her family in the Roslindale section of Boston was a mother to the entire neighborhood, died peacefully in her Chilmark home on Sunday, Dec. 28, surrounded by her 10 children and Lauren, one of her 35 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. She was 88.
Eleanor T. McCaffrey was born in 1926 in Brookline. After graduating from Simmons College in 1948 with a degree in nursing, she married Kenneth V. Keohane.
While raising her family in Roslindale, she had full-time work in the nursing field. The last 20 years of her work career were as a supervisor at Bournewood Hospital.
Ellie was really the mother and medical caretaker of the entire neighborhood. She was a tireless advocate for her children and an early steward of the environment. She enlisted all the children in her neighborhood to keep the streets and yards free from trash. They would receive ice cream as a reward, which encouraged them to keep at it.
In 1968, after a disastrous family vacation the previous summer, she discovered Martha’s Vineyard through a newspaper advertisement. From then on, she was hooked.
The family rented summer vacation homes, with Ellie doing private-duty nursing to afford the rent.
Finally, in 1987, she realized her dream. She purchased land in Chilmark and became her own general contractor. She built a beautiful post and beam house.
The realtor told her the soil was poor and she probably could not garden. Never one to be told she was incapable, she improved the soil, planted trees, built stone walkways, and fussed in flower beds for the rest of her life.
Ellie enjoyed bossing her children around to complete various projects on the property. Rumor has it she was caught cutting wood for the stove with a chainsaw indoors!
The highlight of her year was hosting a huge Thanksgiving feast for her now enormous family.
Many days Ellie could be spotted eating her muffin and reading the newspaper parked in the Tashmoo overlook, enjoying the view along with her morning coffee.
She loved to clip items of particular interest to pass around to various people. Found in her clippings was this poem, author unknown:
“May the snow fall gently where her ashes be
and the wind blow softly in the spring.
May the flowers bloom in endless beauty
Through the days of summer
and the patient stars shine nightly on her rest.”
Eldest son Kenny summed it all up: “What a life it was!”
She is survived by 10 children, Ken Keohane of Chilmark, Carol Porter of Harwich, Denis and wife Colleen of Riverview, Fla., Michael and wife Karen Mellor of Westwood, John and wife Cathy of Milton, Ann of Cambria, Calif., Chris and wife Kathy of Sandwich, Marie and husband Dan Larsen of Edgartown, Trish Keohane of Vineyard Haven, and Peter and wife Barbara of Hampton, N.H. Ellie was predeceased by her husband Kenneth V. Keohane.
Funeral services will be held Jan. 9 at 10:30 am at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne. In lieu of flowers, send donations to the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (Options in Education), P.O. Box 1150, West Tisbury, MA 02575.