Elizabeth Steele

Obituary of Elizabeth Steele

Elizabeth Poole Reilly Steele (Betty), a 60-year resident of Princeton, NJ, beloved mother of six, and grandmother of eight, died May 30, 2018. Born February 28, 1928, in Boston, she was the cherished only child of Eugenia Poole Reilly and James Crowley Reilly of Lowell, MA.

Betty’s delightful childhood was enriched by the Reilly clan of Lowell, especially her seven next door cousins. One, Grace Reilly Conway, became Betty’s lifelong best friend. They spent nearly every day of their young lives together, including more than 80 summers at Drakes Island, Maine. That tranquil space became Betty’s foundation, the getaway she later enjoyed for so many summers with her own children. There she instilled in each of them an appreciation for place and a devotion to family, as well as the beauty of storytelling as she recreated many wonderful experiences with her loving Daddy, devoted Auntie Bud, and many family and friends.

She attended Lowell schools and became lifelong friends with Libby Drury King of Falmouth, ME (their mothers were also great friends). Betty graduated from Rogers Hall School for Girls, where she was editor-in-chief of the literary yearbook and valedictorian of her graduating class. She attended the College of St. Elizabeth with her cousin, Grace, before transferring to Manhattanville College. There she became an officer of the English Club, earned a degree in sociology, and was awarded a Child of Mary medal.

Betty began her working life as a reporter for the Lowell Sun, where she had a by-line for the column “And Have You Heard,” focusing on the social and cultural activities of the Lowell community. Interviewing First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was both an exceptional opportunity and a pinnacle of Betty’s career. She also had occasion to meet with actress Dorothy Lamour and director Alfred Hitchcock while they were in town on a movie promotion tour.

Betty married in 1953 and the couple moved to Charlottesville, VA, then Riverside and Merced, CA. She loved the adventure of traveling the country and relished the challenges of independence. With the births of her first two children in California, Betty found her true calling: motherhood. The family returned east and lived briefly on Staten Island before choosing Princeton to settle with three, then six, young children. Betty chose to make this town her home for the rest of her life.

Her children were Betty’s greatest source of pride and joy. She had a talent for making each of her six feel special, carving out coveted time alone with one or another and creating lasting memories out of the smallest activities such as celebrating her late father’s birthday on Valentine’s Day. She brought joy to each day, somehow knew just what to say in hard times, and personified unconditional love.

Betty went on to raise the children alone, and faced down difficulties with the support of devoted friends such as Flora Hicks. Rarely faltering, Betty set a powerful example of grace under pressure. She became a woman perhaps not even she knew she could be: resilient, resourceful, self-reliant, and successful. She went back to work, joining Gallery 100 on Nassau Street, which was owned by dear friend Fleurette Faus. When Betty moved into advertising and public relations, she found an interest that would last the rest of her career. The personal and professional converged in her role as director of public relations for Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton, which all four of her daughters had attended and she had helped found in the 1960s.   

Her physical beauty lasted through each stage of her life, but Betty was much more than her captivating smile. She had an equally lovely singing voice, a passion for reading, a great talent for writing, and a flair both for decorating and entertaining – interests many of her children have carried forth. She expanded her writing skills with poetry courses at Princeton University where the quality of her work was noted, and often delighted family and friends with poems and limericks. Betty was instrumental in the preservation of Princeton’s historic houses, having fully restored her Colonial Revival home at 250 Mercer Street. She enjoyed activities at the Present Day Club of Princeton, was a proud founder of the TWIN Awards (Tribute to Women & Industry) program at the YWCA, and chaired the Lane of Shops major fundraiser of the Princeton Hospital Fete.

Betty is survived by six loving children: James Reilly Steele and his wife Elizabeth of Sao Francisco Xavier, Brazil; Eugenie Steele Dieck and her husband David of Lafayette Hill, PA; Mary Ellen and her husband Joseph; Elizabeth Steele and her wife Margaret Drugovich of Oneonta, NY, and Castine, ME; John Steele and his wife Julie Tippens of Arlington, VA; and Margaret Steele and her husband Robert Rieth of Sherman Oaks, CA. Betty’s love for life will also continue in her eight grandchildren: Andrew and Brendan Dieck, Elizabeth and William Kelly, Reilly and Molly Steele, and Jack and Alexandra Rieth. 

Betty is also survived by her cousins Grace Reilly Conway and Ann Reilly Gervais, both of greater Lowell, MA, and Drakes Island, ME. She was predeceased by her parents and her cousins Frances Reilly Mack, Peter W. Reilly, and Walter B. Reilly of MA; Lawrence K. Reilly of ME; and Henry T. Reilly of VT.

Services will be private and held at a later date. Gifts in memory of Elizabeth Reilly Steele may be made to Mary Jacobs Memorial Library (64 Washington St., Rocky Hill, NJ); the Present Day Club (72 Stockton St., Princeton, NJ 08540); or to support research at the Parkinson’s Foundation (200 SE 1st St., Suite 800, Miami, FL 33131).  

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