Wife of 54 years to Frank Keily (deceased) Barbara Ann (Pierson) Keily joins him having passed peacefully at 91 years of age on September 27th, after a three-year hard-fought battle with cancer. She was surrounded by her children Daryl, Michael (“Mickey”), James (Jim), and Mary Kathleen (Kathy) at Kathy’s home in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Born in 1931 to parents Elly and George Pierson, she was raised in Rocky River, Ohio, graduated from Rocky River High School in 1949, and raised her own family there before she and Frank retreated to St. Petersburg, Florida, permanently in 2003 having lived there seasonally for several years previous. Her poise, grace, and charm were exceeded only by her excellent sense of humor. While she enjoyed most any good comedian, she had a particular affinity for female comics who, in her estimation, had to work harder to achieve success. It was, in fact, often remarked she bore a striking resemblance, both in wit and appearance, to Carol Burnett, which she took as a great compliment finding the great comedienne not only brilliantly funny, but a strong woman figure. At a Tonight Show taping in Los Angeles Barbara was once picked out of the audience by guest host Joan Rivers to banter with and surprised Joan by saying that Jim, the 26-year-old son she was sitting with was her youngest boy. An astonished Joan Rivers replied, “Youngest?! You look fabulous! What did you have done? Stand up, show everybody how good you look. Can you still stand up?” Her husband, Frank, looked on, beaming. She found it almost impossible to say “very interesting” and not follow it with “…but not very funny” ala Artie Johnson on Laugh-In. She also bore a resemblance to Laugh-In’s Ruth Buzzi and, in fact, once attended a costume party as Ruth Buzzi’s “old lady on a park bench” character who would constantly hit the inappropriately suggestive Artie Johnson with her purse. She was fun.
Her family, friends, and even children’s friends remember an always open door to them at the Keily house on Parkview where all were made to feel welcome by Barb and Frank. A reservations agent for 25 years with United Airlines enabled the family to travel extensively and the adventurous lifestyle she shared with Frank took them on canal boat excursions through Europe, safaris in Africa, and visits to places like Russia, China, and Japan. They skied the mountains of Utah, Colorado, California, and Washington. They attended the Munich Olympics in 1972 and the inauguration of the Sydney Opera House in 1973. On a moment’s notice they accepted an invitation and attended the Phantom of the Opera opening night performance and party in Washington, DC, with President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell in attendance. As supportive parents they would never hesitate to hop on a plane and travel to wherever one of their children might reside to share in an extensive variety of events and celebrations.
In the course of their travels, their sociable out-going personalities led to an ever-expansive collection of friends, beginning with a wonderful group of Canadians that they met in "cottage country" in southern Ontario on annual summer vacations. It was there Barbara established herself as a master of water-skiing and Frank influenced others to join him in singing Barbershop Quartet. These lifelong friends remain the core of the extended family today and, combined with friends made through her work at United Airlines, the network of constant companions has been vast and tight-knit.
Becoming a widow in 2008, Barbara made the acquaintance of Jack Lillig two years later and they became partners in life and love until he passed away in 2020. Diagnosed with cancer in 2019 and battling it fiercely for three years, her declining months were spent under Kathy’s loving care at her home in Charlotte. Her last weeks were spent with friends and family who came to visit, including her grandkids Elly and Galen (Daryl and Deb Hartman’s children), and her final hours found her surrounded by her four children.
Her values were progressive, her open-mindedness was boundless, and her moral compass was intact. These qualities, as well as her kindness, keen wit, and quiet dignity, made her an incredible influence on all lucky enough to have known her. Though she will be forever greatly missed, her presence will always be deeply felt.