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Janice O'Keefe-Billings, 64

February 01, 2014

NORTH 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

Messages gone.

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.

Recollections & Sympathy For the Family
Post Comment
Janice was an inspirational mentor for me as a non-traditional student completing my undergrad degree in my mid-30s (way back in the 1980s). Janice's vision and determination to create alternate pathways at NASC/MCLA for students like me was a tremendous boost to inspire me to finish my degree. I loved her dry sense of humor, her professional and person care, and her friendship. Thanks Janice for the many many ways you touched people's lives for the better!
from: Dyan Wileyon: 02-05-2014

Dear Clark & Janice's family,
I am so deeply sad & sorry for your loss. Janice was a dear & generous person, and I've thought of her often since the move to Rhode Island.
MCLA, N. Adams, & the world were better places when Jan was here....
from: Diane Parsonson: 02-05-2014

Clark, sorry for your loss
from: mary jean hadenon: 02-04-2014

thank you all for your kind sentiments--Janice is at peace and without pain
from: clark h billingson: 02-04-2014

Clark & Family So sorry to hear of Janice's passing. She was a great friend and co-worker. Janice brought a smile to all those she knew. I bet we can all look back and remember something that she said or did that made us laugh. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you all.

Rick & Diane Lesniak
from: on: 02-03-2014

Thoughts and prayers to the Billings & O'Keefe families. Janice was a wonderful person! Our deepest condolences.
from: Pat & Heather Boulgeron: 02-03-2014

Clark, Janice has been an inspiration to all who knew her and she is now at peace. Our deepest sympathies to you and her family at this very difficult time.
from: Mary Ann and Tony Abuision: 02-02-2014

Clark, So sorry for your loss.
from: Don Pecoron: 02-02-2014

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