Frances Sullivan always spoke her mind. And her daughter surmises, “That might have been one of the reasons she lived so long. She just told it like it was.”
After more than 50 years in New Bedford and nearly a century of living, she contracted COVID-19 and died just six hours shy of her 99th birthday.
Frances was born in Middletown, Conn., and she often helped out at her father’s restaurant with the rest of her siblings. In 1945, she took a vacation to Virginia Beach, where she met New Bedford native Robert Sullivan. The couple corresponded and were married a year later in 1946. They remained together for 50 years until Robert’s death in 1996, making New Bedford their home and raising five children together.
Frances loved to visit her family back in Connecticut. “She always kept her roots close to her,” said her daughter, Suzanne Sullivan.
Frances was proud to be a stay-at-home-mom and was “very particular about how (her children) were raised.” She insisted on Catholic school, “good home-cooked food,” and sitting down to dinner together every night. She even made fresh-squeezed orange juice for her children every morning. And with their house close to Buttonwood Park, the Sullivans always had a place to play. “We were a close family,” said Suzanne.
After her children left home, Frances worked as a cashier in the cafeteria at New Bedford High School. With seven years of service, she earned a plaque from the school. “She had that plaque until the day she died,” Suzanne said. “She was so proud of that.”
Aside from her family, Frances’s greatest love was fashion: “She dressed to kill,” her daughter said.
In high school, she dreamed of opening a dress shop in New York City. While she never accomplished that goal, she did have Suzanne’s clothes made by a dressmaker in New Bedford.
She also maintained her own sense of fashion, says her daughter: “She liked the blingy, goldish flats. She loved scarves; she had a ton of scarves. And she loved cashmere sweaters … She had a mink hat. She loved that hat … and she always wore sunglasses.”
Frances was “independent,” driving her car until she was 88 years old. But after breaking her leg at age 94, she moved into a nursing home. Keeping 25 pairs of shoes with her in the home, Frances believed that, “‘If I have to be in a nursing home, I’m at least going to enjoy that,’” Suzanne explained. “She never lost her sense of fashion – she kept that right until the end.”
In November of 2020, Frances contracted COVID-19 in the nursing home and died just five days later, her daughter said. “I’m glad she didn’t suffer, but we just didn’t expect it.”
Frances was always organized, and she had “planned her funeral for probably 20 years, Suzanne said. “She didn’t want us to do a lot of work when she died.” Her loved ones held a Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Dartmouth and adorned the space with white flowers, just as Frances had wished.
“She was a character,” Suzanne said. “She really was.”
In one of the last pictures Suzanne has of her mother, Frances leans on her walker while sporting a leopard coat, the beloved mink hat, and her signature sunglasses; going out in style, her daughter said. She truly “was one of a kind.”
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