Katherine Willcox Reiland
(1932 - 2008)

Katherine Willcox Reiland
Nickname: Kitty

Ohio, United States of America
December 18, 1932

Massachusetts, United States of America
December 21, 2008

Family; painting with watercolors; bridge; helping others
Katherine Willcox Reiland, affectionately known as "Kitty", was born in Columbus, Ohio. She graduated from the Columbus School for Girls in 1950 and attended Sweet Briar College in Virginia. She married her high school sweetheart, Bill, in August 1952. They returned to Columbus in 1955 to raise their family ... a brood of four - Andy, Beth and the twins Bill & Martha. The family moved to Cape Cod in 1975, where she served as the Patient Representative and Director of Volunteers at Cape Cod Hospital for many years. She & Bill moved to Westwood in 2004.

Kitty was an amazing woman who showered all with her humor, wisdom and warmth. She will be sorely missed. A memorial service was held on Saturday, January 10, 2009.

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My name is Bill Reiland and I am the younger of Kitty’s two sons and one of the twins. Mom affectionately called me Little Billy, a name that I rarely hear these days but one that will forever affect me when I do hear it because it really reminds me of her.

We all loved Kitty – to know her was to love her. I think once you knew her you actually had no choice; she was just so caring and compassionate, so sweet and charming. She was also remarkably funny and irreverent; her sense of humor enveloped you and her prolific story telling could keep you spellbound for hours. She had this unique view of the world, with a highly developed sense of irony – she loved the cartoons of James Thurber and it showed. Despite her gentle demeanor, there was another important side to Kitty, a subtle and irrepressible strength, a force of will that was exceptional but one that she rarely exhibited to others. In the most important of times, however, she showed that strength to those who were close to her. And it was powerful.

When I was young, she told me that I would have really liked her father, known as JW, even though I never got the chance to meet him. I was honored that she thought he would have liked me and always felt that not knowing him was a loss. She told me the story of when – back in the old days of the Ford model T –JW drove his car into the main square of Granville, Ohio and managed to drive it up right up and over the curb and on to the sidewalk - miraculously without harming anybody, including himself. In what I know my Mom thought was a stroke of brilliance, JW jumped out of the car, ran away from the scene of the accident and then strode back with the ultimate confidence, asking or possibly proclaiming in quite a loud voice: “what kind of idiot would park his car like this?” But that was a classic Kitty story. You had to be able to laugh at yourself. With bravado. While her repertoire might wander from topic to topic and the descriptions of what happened in each of her stories did seem to get enlarged in every way from year to year, they did represent to us the fabric of our lives within the family, and Mom was always at the center.

In trying to help me find some of the words for this, my brother, Andy – in many ways the silent rock of our family – wrote this, something that I think really captures Mom’s spirit: “You should talk about her advocacy for patients, protecting the weak in spite of stepping on toes. She was also our best advocate growing up. Sometimes she probably went too far. Like the time she told the Chatham Police: “my kids were throwing rose hips at those cars because the town doesn't have a recreation program to keep them from being bored.”

Mom was born in 1932 to be the youngest of the Willcox sisters and it seems that being a Willcox sister back then meant something big. They were, as I have been told, maybe a little wild and maybe a little out of control (much to their father’s chagrin) – and Mom was the youngest sister trailing behind. I got the sense that if you were growing up in Columbus in the late 40s and 50s, you really wanted to be hanging out with the Willcox girls – they were all just that much fun. Later on, we all remember the high hilarity of family holidays in Columbus with our aunts and uncles and cousins and Nan, and there was always a good story that came out of every Thanksgiving or Christmas - some of those stories Mom could even retell among polite company (some of them maybe not). Her sisters, Sue and Martha still show that old spark – you could always tell when Mom was on the phone with one of them, her voice was just a little louder, a little happier, her laugh just a little heartier. I know they miss her.

Mom grew up in Columbus and attended the Columbus School for Girls. She met her high school sweetheart, my Dad, and they dated through the end of high school and into their college years. After graduating from CSG, my Mom went on to Sweet Briar while my Dad went to Yale. They conducted a long distance relationship for a couple of years, until they were married in the summer of what would prove to be the end of my Mom’s college career at Sweet Briar. She left school to be with my Father, have kids and become a Mom.

She used to talk about that period in her life and how just before she left Sweet Briar, she felt that all of her academic studies were coming together in an explosion of intellectual development that was to her, very exciting and very gratifying. She didn’t seem to me to be saying these things in order to have us feel sorry for her and the decisions that she had made in her life, rather, it was an important experience for her and one that she wanted to share with us as we grew a up. I remember myself feeling a little lost in College during sophomore year and thought about her experience often; luckily, that intellectual enlightenment did occur for me, eventually.

After my dad graduated from Yale in 1954, they traveled through Oklahoma for Army duty (where my oldest brother Andy was born) and then on to Cincinnati, where Beth arrived. They ultimately returned to Columbus and by 1961 the brood totaled four – including Andy, Beth, myself and my twin sister Martha.

Mom used to tell a story about my birth that was poignant, maybe particularly to me. Right after my sister and I were born, I suffered from a bout of pneumonia and had to be re-hospitalized. While recovering, a nurse appeared to have shut off the oxygen and, apparently, I began to turn blue from a lack of air. Mom noticed my condition and they corrected the issue, although it appeared that at some point my survival was somewhat in doubt. As Mom used to tell the story, she swore that she had made a pact with God that she would she would do whatever He wanted, if He would only let me live. It worked.

Later on Mom was indeed a really great cook for us and that’s a passion that she shared with all of us. We will forever be grateful to her for that. There were always great smells and lots of laughter coming out of the kitchen in our house. Martha helped me to remember some of these delicious memories about Mom and her cooking:

When making the dough for her famous cinnamon rolls, Mom would flagrantly dump two whole sticks of butter into the pan and then immediately turn to whoever was right there and very loudly proclaim: “SSSHHHH... it's a big secret, don’t tell ANYBODY”. Lasagna night was always one of my personal favorites (I once ate an entire pan by myself it was so good) – but when she cooked it you just knew that at some point in time during the evening she was just going to have to say her favorite catch phrase for the occasion: “Lasagna - don't get any onya", which invariably would be followed by "If you'd been where it had been, you'd be hot, too". A final personal favorite of mine was her description of a Honeymoon Salad: “lettuce alone without dressing". We all roared over that one.

Mom wasn’t that good at confronting things directly (who really is?), but she could twist an explanation to solve just about any situation. Like when, as a child, I refused to give up my pacifier. She certainly didn’t want to lie to me, so she did the most reasonable thing she could think of: she blamed the garbage man. Frankly, I felt somewhat satisfied to finally understand the fate of my beloved pacifier. So, for some unidentified number of weeks, I would stand by the front window of our house and wait for the despised garbage truck to appear. When it would arrive on our property, I would stand in full view of the devious perpetrators and shake my fist wildly in a fit of anger. My children, Mia and William, really love that story. But again, that was classic Kitty. She would be happy about my telling the story to my kids and to you – the bottom line is that you could never be allowed – in her book – to take yourself too seriously. And that was the message.

In the mid-60s, my parents built a beautiful house in Chatham on Cape Cod, down by the beach below the lighthouse. While growing up in Columbus was nice, spending the summers in Chatham was idyllic. My father reminded me of this story about my Mom in Chatham: at certain times, my Dad would have to return to Columbus to go back to work. So Mom, basically left alone with four active, if not hysterical, young kids, did what she had to do.

She would get up early, make the ham and cheese sandwiches, pack the heavy green Coleman cooler and get us kids down to the boat to take a ride to “North Beach”, on the other side of Chatham Harbor. Rounding up the wee ones and driving the boat across the Harbor proved to be relatively straightforward - unloading everybody and carrying the gear across to the ocean side was just a little bit more of an adventure. We then had fun on the beach, as usual – I know that she loved that place, as we all did. But the real test of Mom’s mettle came just a little later when we returned to the boat to go home and it became clear that the escaping low tide had stranded our big Cabin Cruiser with little hope for salvage off the beach. No amount of rocking the boat and pushing was going to get that big thing back into the water. One of our neighbors was bemusedly watching this debacle and offered to call the Coast Guard for a rescue. Just in the nick of time, however, we caught a break, the tide came back in and with one big, lucky push we went off on our way. That was my Mom – she would do whatever it would take to get it done. However, on the way back home, she huddled all of us kids up together on the boat and said to us, very solemnly, “now, kids, we don’t really have to tell Dad about this, do we?”

My older sister Beth always had a great relationship with Mom, and it was evident in many different ways. While we growing up, I think that it was Beth’s actions that must have proven to the world that the “mischievous gene” that Mom had was definitely passed on to the next generation. Mom thought it was funny even when that gene was used to her own disadvantage. Like the time we were all reorganizing the spice rack and Beth cut the "Y" off the Parsley sticker and stuck it over the "s" on the "flakes" sticker to spell "flakey". Beth then stuck the “flakey” sticker right on Mom’s forehead. She loved that one; I can still hear her laughing over it.

There were some tougher times ahead, though. In 1975, my Dad got a job on the Cape and the family moved out of Columbus and into the summer house in Chatham. In the blink of an eye, once the summer was over, the kids all dispersed to the winds to go back to school – Beth went for her first year at Wellesley, Martha and I were sent off to boarding school in Boston, while Andy had already left for college. I know that Mom missed all her friends and relatives in Columbus terribly – she really missed her life there. And the sudden loss of her kids was then replaced by the harsh cold wind of a Cape Cod winter.

She took it hard, but then she recovered, that was her strength showing through again. Mom enrolled at the local community college to try to reengage her intellectual curiosities and she seemed to thrive in the environment. There was even a time when we thought that she might re-apply to College and finally get her full-time degree. But the premise that a 50-year old mother of four would even attempt to go back to school, motivated purely by a desire to learn and a need to achieve intellectual fulfillment is just another real testament to her strength and her will.

Mom had volunteered at the Cape Cod Hospital and her work was so appreciated that she applied for and then was hired to be the Patient Representative and Director of Volunteers, a position that she held for many years. I know that she was proud of her work at the hospital, and she helped so many people over the years that she became a leading light of the organization. One of the best moments of my own career in business was when my firm was hired by the hospital to fix their financing arrangements. They were not the biggest deals I ever worked on, but they were absolutely the most satisfying because they were for my Mom. I would fly in from New York, have some meetings and do whatever we had to do and then, at the end of the day, I would meet up with my Mom in her office so that we could leave and go out and have dinner with my Dad. Being there with her made me so proud. It was the darndest thing, though; I will never forget how long it took us to get from her office out to her car. On the way through the halls, she was constantly stopped by nurses, volunteers, patients, janitors, everybody. They all had a smile, a laugh, a quick comment, maybe some gallows humor. But she was theirs and they were proud of her and we all knew it. I know they miss her too.

As most of you know well, Mom and Dad moved to Westwood in 2004 and have led a happy life together here, with many friends and happy times. I know that many of you knew my Mom well from these years and that you miss her deeply.

Near the end, when we were all around Mom’s bed after the surgery and it was clear that she was not going to overcome the blood clot in her vein, I turned to my Dad and said in what I had hoped was a comforting way: “Dad, you really knew how to pick a great wife”. Without even missing a beat, he replied to me, “I didn’t pick her, she picked me. I was just lucky.” Now, I am not sure about all that, but I do know that your relationship is remarkable for its longevity, its understanding and its devotion.

You know, in this life, I think you're lucky to find someone that touches your soul in such a profound way. Someone with incredible grace and beauty. Someone who can laugh at themselves and their own shortcomings as loudly as they laugh with others at the quirky nature of the world. Someone with a quiet but forceful will, capable of doing unexpected and exceptional things. I am that lucky - Kitty was my Mom and I love her with every ounce of my heart.
Bill Reiland (Son)
January 18th, 2009
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"You funny lady! I have dreams all the time about all those years we shared. I will always love you! Faye"
Faye Sard
June 3rd, 2019
"Kitty-Your many acts of kindness and generous support assisting my beginning work on traumatic stress will always be remembered. Many have been helped in your honor. I will carry your good heart in memory always. Rest in peace dear friend. Marcy"
Marcy Smith
September 8th, 2009
"To Kitty -- She could make people feel good just being around her, and she used her gift generously."
Jeannie Woodward
January 12th, 2009
"Mom - I hope to reflect even a small glimmer of your beautiful selfless love. I love you. Martha"
Martha Cebry
December 28th, 2008
"Mom - may your light continue to shine within all of us ... I love ya like a rock!"
December 25th, 2008


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