Published in the November 10, 2017 edition

MELROSE — Dorothy Eileen (Riley) Keats, 93, of Melrose, died in her home on November 3, 2017, under hospice care, with her son getting to hold her hand and kiss her forehead.

Dorothy was born in 1924, and grew up in the Depression, the youngest of four children by Catherine and John Riley. “How they ever kept us fed and warm all the time, and laughing,” she used to say, “I’ll never know.” Catherine was in a wheelchair from arthritis by the time her three oldest children got married or had jobs, so her youngest, Dorothy Eileen, took care of her from 1940 to 1961. She loved talking with her brother, John (and writing letters to him in Europe in WWII, and to dozens of other men in the Army that he said never got any mail), and her sisters, Winifred and Grace; and cooking, and laughing with her mom and dad; and the dates and friends that would stop by when she would go dancing in local ballrooms three nights a week.

She loved waltzing instantly and met a man there, John Keats, fourteen years older than she was, who said he was afraid to approach her because she was too cute and danced too well. And she loved him, too. When Catherine passed away, Dorothy took care of her father, John, a navy veteran and lumberyard laborer, until he died in 1964. Then she married the man from the dance, John, after about ten years of dancing together, and had a son by him in 1967, at 43, and after a few years of happiness with her new family, became a widow in 1973.

She immediately went to work, wanting to be involved with the public, and recognizing that she had to keep her modest savings from dwindling, and spent years working ‘mother’s hours’ at Burger King and McDonald’s as a cashier, and then Gallahue’s market in Melrose, and, eventually, Filene’s Basement in Saugus, until she was 77. All her siblings passed away by 1999, and she developed dementia when she was about 87, but until then, she tried to replicate the kind of family life she’d had herself—warm, caring, conversational, and responsible—with her son, which she did.

She was tough, and independent, and resilient, but also sensitive, funny, selfless, and intensely compassionate. She could be a storm if she felt wronged, or watched someone wronged; but when real thunder came, she was terrified. No one was better company. Talking to someone over dinner or in front of television wasn’t diversion; it was life. It mattered, the listening, the companionship, the human interaction. She loved to hear people’s stories, whether the people were real or fictional, and was as involved in “The Sopranos” and “Dexter” as she would have been if the people in those shows came into her home. And maybe she couldn’t follow those stories at the end, which was the heartbreaking aspect of dementia for someone with such a vital personality but, with the help of Hospice, she got to pass away in what seemed like relative peace, with her son beside her, in her own apartment, which seemed only fair for a woman who’d done so much always to put family—either her own parents, or her young son—first.

Dorothy was the beloved wife of the late John Keats, and the devoted mother of John Keats, Jr. Cherished daughter of the late Catherine (Wallace) and John Riley. Sister of the late John W. Riley, Winifred Hickey, and Grace McMahon.

A graveside service was held at Wyoming Cemetery in Melrose on Wednesday, November 8. Memorial contributions may be made to Hallmark Health Visiting Nursing Association and Hospice, 178 Savin Street, Suite 300, Malden, MA 02148. To send condolences or sign guest book visit