Janice O'Keefe-Billings, 64NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Janice Irene O'Keefe-Billings, 64, of East Greenwich, R.I., formerly of North Adams, died on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, at Kent County Hospital in Rhode Island, surrounded by her family.
Born on May 5, 1949, daughter of Dorothy O'Keefe and the late Bernard O'Keefe, she graduated from Bellingham High School in 1967 and went on to earn a bachelor's degree at the former North Adams State College, summa cum laude, in 1978, and a graduate degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Ms. O'Keefe-Billings' life work reflected her deep commitment to the human cause. For more than 20 years, she labored to improve health and social conditions for the disenfranchised through her leadership and activism as director of public relations and communications for the Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice of Northern Berkshire and her involvement in myriad community organizations, notably the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, an organization of health and human service providers and advocates.
She was a woman of extraordinary intellect, strength and beauty with an exquisite artistic sensibility and a flair for the dramatic, said family. She had a fiery nature and lived large. Her valiant 30-year struggle with a debilitating progressive disease was testament to how the human spirit can prevail in the face of adversity. For all the suffering she endured, she refused to allow her disease to define her, albeit in the end there was no escaping the unrelenting assault on her body and soul. To her family and friends she will forever remain a study in human courage, a woman of passion, humor, daring, and panache.
Besides her mother, she leaves her husband, Clark Billings, a former North Adams city councilor; four sisters, Maureen, Elaine, Judy and Peggy and brothers-in-law Ronnie, Mark, Michael and Bobby; two stepsons, Brewster Billings and his wife, Stephanie, of Fort Worth, Texas, and K.C. Billings and his wife, Jill, of Leland, N.C.; nephews Sean, Bryan, Dennis, Gabriel, Jason, Peter, Scott and Mike, and niece, Jillian, and six stepgrandchildren.
She was predeceased by her brothers William O'Keefe, on Jan. 9, and Steven O'Keefe.
Like her beloved father, "Barney the Bard," Ms. O'Keefe-Billings was a muse and a gifted writer of prose and poetry. One of her most poignant poems was inspired by the tragic death of her younger brother Steven, who died at the age of 22. Wracked with grief, she wrote:
Steven – you lay softly silenced
sleeping in a twilight zone
between now and then.
And then ...
We bore you from building to building
In a copper colored casket. Blue
Flowers; white flowers; yellow, blood red flowers that all died in the sun
We laid you down in the brilliant heat of summer;
We gave you to the parched crumbling earth ...
Steven, we ask
Where is your beautiful, blonde, laughing, mocking face?
We search but no answering voices whisper
And no deadened eyes speak
By Janice O'Keefe
FUNERAL NOTICE — Calling hours for Ms. O'Keefe-Billings will be held at Cranston-Murphy Funeral Home of Wickford, 140 West Main St., North Kingstown, R.I., on Tuesday, Feb. 4, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. with a service at 6:30. A gathering will follow at a nearby restaurant.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Rhode Island chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Checks can be mailed to 205 Hallene Road, No. 209, Warwick, RI 02886.