EAST GREENWICH- Janice O'Keefe-Billings died at Kent County Hospital RI on February 1, 2014, surrounded by her family. Janice is predeceased by her father Bernard O'Keefe, and her brothers William and Steven O'Keefe.
She is survived by her mother Dorothy O'Keefe, sisters Maureen, Elaine, Judy and Peggy, brothers in law Ronnie, Mark, Michael, and Bobby, nephews Sean, Bryan, Dennis, Gabriel, Jason, Peter, Scott, Mike and niece Jillian, and her husband Clark Billings and stepsons, Brewster Billings, of Fort Worth Texas , K.C. Billings of Leeland, NC, daughters- in- law Stephanie and Jill, and 6 step grandchildren.
Janice graduated from Bellingham High School in 1967 and went on to earn a bachelors degree at North Adams State College, Summa Cum Laude, in 1978, and a graduate degree from the University of MA in Amherst. Her life's work reflected her deep commitment to the human cause. For over 20 years Janice 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 of the Northern Berkshires and her involvement in myriad community organizations, notably the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, an organization of health and human service providers and advocates.
Like her beloved father, "Barney the Bard", Janice 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.
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
Janice was a woman of extraordinary intellect, strength and beauty with an exquisite artistic sensibility and a flair for the dramatic. 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.
Calling hours will be held at The Cranston-Murphy Funeral Home of Wickford, 140 West Main Street, North Kingstown, RI on Tuesday, February 4, 2014, from 4 - 6:30 pm with a service at 6:30 pm. 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, #209, Warwick, RI 02886. For online messages of condolence, kindly visit www.CranstonMurphy.com