OBITUARY

Dorothy Fitzgerald Nealon

September 12, 1924December 14, 2018
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Dorothy F. Nealon, 1924-2018

Dorothy Fitzgerald Nealon, of Madison, passed away peacefully at dawn on December 14th, holding her granddaughter’s hand—a poetic ending for a woman affectionately referred to by family and friends as “the matriarch.”

Dorothy lived a remarkable life and was treasured by many for her quick-witted and sparkling personality. Faced with the tragedies of losing her mother as a teenager and her father in her early thirties, Dorothy learned early on that life is short and should be lived with resilience, purpose, love, and a healthy dose of humor.

Her father, an insurance executive, once told her that “the best life insurance for a woman is a college education.” Dorothy took this advice to heart throughout her life, and shortly after her mother died, enrolled at the College of St. Rose (Albany, NY) to pursue bachelors’ degrees in English and Spanish. Described by her college classmates as “irresistible company for whom nothing is impossible,” Dorothy persuaded the school administration to establish its first study abroad program in her junior year and traveled to Mexico City in 1945 with four classmates to spend the year at the National University of Mexico. Just recently, Dorothy was featured in the College of St. Rose Magazine as a “Study Abroad Pioneer,” and, in 2019, a book of letters written by one of her roommates, Cathryn Buckley Arcomano, entitled The Five American Girls: Mexico Letters – 1945, is set to be published. Dorothy cherished her memories from studying abroad, and up until the very week she passed away, chatted in fluent Spanish whenever the opportunity arose.

In 1946, Dorothy graduated from the College of St. Rose, and began her career at General Electric (GE Education Relations Division) in Schenectady, NY, working as an administrative assistant and Spanish instructor to GE executives and crossing paths with fellow GE employees Kurt Vonnegut and Ronald Reagan. While working at GE, Dorothy met Francis “Frank” I. Nealon, whom she married in 1954 and with whom she had three beloved daughters. Sadly, because of Frank’s serious health problems, Dorothy became an untiring and inspiring “single mom” when her youngest child was only four years old. Despite these trying circumstances, Dorothy resolved to set an example and provide for her daughters. She earned her master’s degree in teaching at SUNY-Albany, attending classes at night and on the weekends while teaching full-time (Spanish and English at the K-12 and college levels).

A long-time teacher, Dorothy was employed by the Schenectady (NY) School District during a noteworthy period of labor unrest. In September 1975, after the Schenectady Federation of Teachers went on a three-week strike in violation of the New York State Taylor Law and refused to return to work, Dorothy, a union board member, became part of the “Schenectady 12” – twelve teachers who were sentenced to ten days in jail for civil contempt. Ironically, the twelve were forced to leave their classrooms in January 1976 to serve their prison terms. At the time, Dorothy was upset that teachers were jailed and treated like dangerous criminals—confined to jail cells and given only spoons at mealtime—but she later found humor in the whole experience. When newcomers asked her what she had done to wind up in jail, she’d raise her eyebrows and, dripping with sarcastic delight, say, “What did I do? Ten days. That’s all you need to know,” followed and punctuated by her impeccably timed trademark wink.

Chief among Dorothy’s virtues was her loyal service to her family and her community. She was eager to attend every scholastic and sporting event of her grandchildren, and—as the family grammarian—eager to engrain proper English grammar and pronunciation skills in anyone around her who slipped up. Dorothy demonstrated love and commitment like no other, and tellingly, left everyone convinced that he or she was “Grandma’s favorite.” Up until she passed away, Dorothy enjoyed daily phone calls and visits from her children and grandchildren, and even regularly “face-timed” with her three new great-granddaughters. When she wasn’t spending time with her daughters and helping to raise her grandchildren, Dorothy’s abundant energy allowed her to frequent her favorite shops and restaurants on the shoreline, attend exercise classes at the Madison Senior Center, complete the weekly New York Times crossword puzzle, and volunteer well into her nineties. Dorothy made community service a priority throughout her life and volunteered at St. Clare Hospital (Schenectady), the American Red Cross Bloodmobile (Sarasota), St. Margaret’s Church (Madison), and the Our Lady of Grace Dominican Monastery (North Guilford), where she worked in the gift shop for over 20 years. Emblematic of her wit and generosity, Dorothy would add $20 to the cash register at the end of her shift each day, explaining, “you know, just in case I messed up the sales tax calculation.”

Dorothy is survived by her close-knit and devoted daughters: Patricia Nealon Schiraldi (Benedict), Elizabeth Nealon Byrne (Matthew) and Nancy Fitzgerald Banyard (Leslie); seven grandchildren: Matthew Kieran Byrne (Michelle), Michael Benedict Schiraldi (Courtney), Kathleen Fitzgerald Byrne Cullina (Christopher), Laura Nealon Schiraldi, Leslie Frederick Banyard, Christopher John Schiraldi (Elisabeth), and Kyle Fitzgerald Banyard; three great-grandchildren: Mia Maureen & Juliet Patricia Schiraldi and Madison Elizabeth Byrne; and her beloved nieces and nephews. To Dorothy’s credit and immense pride, all three children and seven grandchildren are college graduates, with several going on to complete advanced degrees as well.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Middlesex Hospital Hospice, Office of Philanthropy, 28 Crescent Street, Middletown, CT 06457. The Middlesex Hospital and at-home Hospice staff were an invaluable source of comfort, competence, and support in Dorothy’s final days.

Services

  • Calling Hours to form the procession Friday, December 21, 2018
  • Mass of Christian Burial Friday, December 21, 2018
  • Interment Saturday, December 22, 2018
REMEMBERING

Dorothy Fitzgerald Nealon

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Biography

Dorothy F. Nealon, 1924-2018


Dorothy Fitzgerald Nealon, of Madison, passed away peacefully at dawn on December 14th, holding her granddaughter’s hand—a poetic ending for a woman affectionately referred to by family and friends as “the matriarch.”

Dorothy lived a remarkable life and was treasured by many for her quick-witted and sparkling personality. Faced with the tragedies of losing her mother as a teenager and her father in her early thirties, Dorothy learned early on that life is short and should be lived with resilience, purpose, love, and a healthy dose of humor.

Her father, an insurance executive, once told her that “the best life insurance for a woman is a college education.” Dorothy took this advice to heart throughout her life, and shortly after her mother died, enrolled at the College of St. Rose (Albany, NY) to pursue bachelors’ degrees in English and Spanish. Described by her college classmates as “irresistible company for whom nothing is impossible,” Dorothy persuaded the school administration to establish its first study abroad program in her junior year and traveled to Mexico City in 1945 with four classmates to spend the year at the National University of Mexico. Just recently, Dorothy was featured in the College of St. Rose Magazine as a “Study Abroad Pioneer,” and, in 2019, a book of letters written by one of her roommates, Cathryn Buckley Arcomano, entitled The Five American Girls: Mexico Letters – 1945, is set to be published. Dorothy cherished her memories from studying abroad, and up until the very week she passed away, chatted in fluent Spanish whenever the opportunity arose.

In 1946, Dorothy graduated from the College of St. Rose, and began her career at General Electric (GE Education Relations Division) in Schenectady, NY, working as an administrative assistant and Spanish instructor to GE executives and crossing paths with fellow GE employees Kurt Vonnegut and Ronald Reagan. While working at GE, Dorothy met Francis “Frank” I. Nealon, whom she married in 1954 and with whom she had three beloved daughters. Sadly, because of Frank’s serious health problems, Dorothy became an untiring and inspiring “single mom” when her youngest child was only four years old. Despite these trying circumstances, Dorothy resolved to set an example and provide for her daughters. She earned her master’s degree in teaching at SUNY-Albany, attending classes at night and on the weekends while teaching full-time (Spanish and English at the K-12 and college levels).

A long-time teacher, Dorothy was employed by the Schenectady (NY) School District during a noteworthy period of labor unrest. In September 1975, after the Schenectady Federation of Teachers went on a three-week strike in violation of the New York State Taylor Law and refused to return to work, Dorothy, a union board member, became part of the “Schenectady 12” – twelve teachers who were sentenced to ten days in jail for civil contempt. Ironically, the twelve were forced to leave their classrooms in January 1976 to serve their prison terms. At the time, Dorothy was upset that teachers were jailed and treated like dangerous criminals—confined to jail cells and given only spoons at mealtime—but she later found humor in the whole experience. When newcomers asked her what she had done to wind up in jail, she’d raise her eyebrows and, dripping with sarcastic delight, say, “What did I do? Ten days. That’s all you need to know,” followed and punctuated by her impeccably timed trademark wink.

Chief among Dorothy’s virtues was her loyal service to her family and her community. She was eager to attend every scholastic and sporting event of her grandchildren, and—as the family grammarian—eager to engrain proper English grammar and pronunciation skills in anyone around her who slipped up. Dorothy demonstrated love and commitment like no other, and tellingly, left everyone convinced that he or she was “Grandma’s favorite.” Up until she passed away, Dorothy enjoyed daily phone calls and visits from her children and grandchildren, and even regularly “face-timed” with her three new great-granddaughters. When she wasn’t spending time with her daughters and helping to raise her grandchildren, Dorothy’s abundant energy allowed her to frequent her favorite shops and restaurants on the shoreline, attend exercise classes at the Madison Senior Center, complete the weekly New York Times crossword puzzle, and volunteer well into her nineties. Dorothy made community service a priority throughout her life and volunteered at St. Clare Hospital (Schenectady), the American Red Cross Bloodmobile (Sarasota), St. Margaret’s Church (Madison), and the Our Lady of Grace Dominican Monastery (North Guilford), where she worked in the gift shop for over 20 years. Emblematic of her wit and generosity, Dorothy would add $20 to the cash register at the end of her shift each day, explaining, “you know, just in case I messed up the sales tax calculation.”

Dorothy is survived by her close-knit and devoted daughters: Patricia Nealon Schiraldi (Benedict), Elizabeth Nealon Byrne (Matthew) and Nancy Fitzgerald Banyard (Leslie); seven grandchildren: Matthew Kieran Byrne (Michelle), Michael Benedict Schiraldi (Courtney), Kathleen Fitzgerald Byrne Cullina (Christopher), Laura Nealon Schiraldi, Leslie Frederick Banyard, Christopher John Schiraldi (Elisabeth), and Kyle Fitzgerald Banyard; three great-grandchildren: Mia Maureen & Juliet Patricia Schiraldi and Madison Elizabeth Byrne; and her beloved nieces and nephews. To Dorothy’s credit and immense pride, all three children and seven grandchildren are college graduates, with several going on to complete advanced degrees as well.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Middlesex Hospital Hospice, Office of Philanthropy, 28 Crescent Street, Middletown, CT 06457. The Middlesex Hospital and at-home Hospice staff were an invaluable source of comfort, competence, and support in Dorothy’s final days.