Rita Deane, a longtime and active community member of Westerly, passed away at dawn on Tuesday November 14th, 2023.
She was born in Leominster, Massachusetts to Catherine (Gillis) and Rory MacDonald. Being the seventh child of her family was not without its struggles. Rita's after school task was peeling vegetables for dinner, an unrelenting chore that would ruin many an afterschool play time and inspire her lifelong devotion to boxed mashed potato flakes. As a young woman Rita relocated to sunny California with several of her siblings, attending the now-defunct California University at Los Angeles, where she enjoyed spreading her wings and getting out of her shell, dying her hair blonde, eating sushi, and seeing Joan Baez at the Hollywood Bowl. A staunch anti-racist, Rita would also attend a speech given at nearby UCLA by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1965, one of her cherished memories that would stay alive in her mind even as dementia began to take its toll in her final months. Despite wanting to stay in California her family insisted she return with them to Leominster after the death of her niece, and she finished her Bachelor’s Degree at Fitchburg State University. Her employment as a bookkeeper during this time would lead to a lifelong career in finance, despite her pursuit of her first love of teaching. It would also lead to crossing paths with the love of her life, her husband Arthur, when she was bookkeeping at a machine shop where he was employed as a tool and die maker. They relocated to Westerly to raise their only daughter together in 1971, enjoying being close to the water, fishing, riding bikes, watching birds, going to the summer fairs, and taking scenic drives. Rita's lack of squeamishness while baiting a fishhook with a worm would inspire Arthur to nickname her “Butch”, a moniker which would live forever emblazoned on her family Christmas stocking, to the amusement of all who encountered it. After living in White Rock and Misquamicut they would settle in Dunns Corners for the rest of both their lives in 1975. Despite not being a “pet person” (at all) her home life would soon be teeming with the animals her beloved daughter cherished, including a dog, a cat, two bunnies, an aquarium full of fish, and a succession of far too many gerbils and mice (the last of which shocked all when they bred despite the pet store's assurance they were both boys. Caveat emptor).
In the early 70's Rita would teach at St. Pius School here in Westerly, as well as substitute at Dunns Corners School, before becoming employed for 13 years as a loans officer at the Westerly Community Credit Union. During this period, Rita spent many years on the Finance Board of Westerly, dabbled in selling real estate, and ran for town council. In 1990 after requesting an unpaid leave of absence from the Westerly Community Credit Union to care for her terminally ill husband, and being denied, Rita immediately quit and dedicated the next 2 years to caring for him full-time until his death in 1992. It would be a time of stopgap employment (maybe you saw her handing out samples at Stop & Shop) to make ends meet for the next few years before she secured the position of Tax Collector for the town of Hopkinton RI, which she would hold for the better part of the last 3 decades of her life. One of her favorite side jobs she maintained concurrently (she had so many jobs) was teaching English and Citizenship to immigrants at the Westerly Public Library. Rita loved this teaching position and truly celebrated when each of her students would pass their test and become new US citizens, and it would become one of her most personally rewarding contributions to our community. Another was the serving on the founding committee of Neighbor Day, with one of her best friends, councilperson and first female town council president Mary Jane Patriarca Di Maio.
In addition to her relentless need to have all the jobs, in her younger days Rita also enjoyed throwing an annual open house New Year's Day party for her many friends, and participating in the neighborhood Luminaria on many Christmas Eves. As she grew older, she spent many Christmas dinners at Mary Jane's, and enjoyed summer visits with her oldest sister and her family in Maine. Those who knew her even briefly described as unique, one-of-a-kind, and most recently, “spicy.” Even during the tribulations of her last months, she made an impression on the caregivers, nurses, and doctors who encountered and cared for her. She was always strong in every aspect, right up to the last of her days.
There were so many people (and those pets!) waiting for Rita when she crossed over. She was predeceased by her parents; husband Arthur; stepson Arthur Jr; nieces, Colleen and Heather MacDonald; nephew Kelly MacDonald and his son Luke; sisters, Ann Grammel, Mary Paseno, Jacqueline MacDonald; brothers, Donald (in infancy) and Frank MacDonald, plus best friends Gloria Russell and Mary Jane DiMaio. What a welcome she surely received!
She is survived by her daughter Kim and Kim's husband Charles; stepdaughter Jane and family; sister Marjorie Fodero and her husband John; nieces, Kerry, Linda, Cathy, Debbie, Marcy, Jeanne, Kathleen; and nephews, John, Mark, and Scott and all of their children and grandchildren.
Rita would love it if you traveled to faraway places you've always dreamed of seeing, and if you wrote a book about your life or something you are excited about. In lieu of flowers please consider a donation in her name to the Johnnycake Center, the Westerly Hospital or Library, or Doctors Without Borders.
Visiting hours will be held on Monday, Nov. 20th from 4-7pm at Gaffney-Dolan Funeral Home, 59 Spruce St., Westerly. Relatives and friends are also invited to attend a Funeral Service at 10am on Tuesday, Nov. 21st at Christ Church, 7 Elm Street, Westerly. There is no procession from the funeral home to church. Interment will follow at River Bend Cemetery, Westerly. For online condolences please visit www.gaffneydolanfuneralhome.com