Lillian Adele Silk was born August 22, 1916, in New York City and grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where she graduated high school in 1934. She took a great interest in the law and dreamed of becoming a judge, but as a woman coming of age during the Great Depression, she found that many legal career paths were closed to her.
So, Lillian made her own path. She completed certificates in typing and stenography at Heffley & Browne Secretarial School, and went to work as a legal secretary. From 1934-1946, she was employed by Paramount Pictures and by two prestigious private law firms: Sullivan & Cromwell, headed by John Foster Dulles, and Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle.
In her free time, Lillian continued her education. She took classes at Brooklyn College, and volunteered as a reader for blind students at Columbia University School of Law. Dedicated and tireless, she read for one student for the full three years until he took his degree, and then helped him prepare for the New York State Bar exam, which he passed on his first try. Lillian triumphed in his success, and in her own. She had acquired an unofficial yet thorough legal education.
Lillian's keen spirit of volunteerism and passion for politics also kept her busy. As a member of the Young Women's Republican Club of New York, she served as treasurer, vice president, and member of the board, and was instrumental in founding the Young Women's Republican Club of Brooklyn. Lillian also took great pride in her membership in the "Wilkiettes", a lively group of young women who successfully supported the 1940 presidential nomination of Wendell Willkie.
On January 14, 1945, Lillian married the love of her life; a handsome, red-haired Navy man, Chester Lee Wheeler of Limestone, Arkansas. As a Navy wife, Lillian spent the next five years following her husband from base to base throughout the United States and abroad. Still passionate about the law, she found work with the Civil Service as a court reporter, a career that would sustain her for the next 50 years.
In 1950, everything changed for the young couple. Chester, then serving on the USS Ranger, had a severe heart attack and was forced to retire on disability. His doctors privately told Lillian that they believed Chester had only a year to live. Her concern for Chester's health was now paramount; she also had to step into the role of primary breadwinner. The Wheelers' next move was to sunny Melbourne, Florida, where Lillian had a post at nearby Patrick AFB
and Chester could recuperate in the gentle climate.
After a year or so, as Chester's health improved, Lillian left the Air Force and opened her own business, Chet's Tavern. She and Chester also became deeply involved in the community. Lillian served as director of the Downtown Melbourne Association for several years. She was also a member of the Federated Republican Women's Club; vice president of a local retail merchants' association; and a member of the Eastern Stars.
Retired life suited Chester. His health stabilized, and he and Lillian again found themselves ready for new adventures. In 1969 Lillian sold the tavern and took a post with the Air Force in Okinawa, Japan, as a court reporter. During this assignment, she achieved a pay grade of 9, which she was to maintain until the end of her Civil Service career.
Lillian and Chester returned to the States in 1973, this time to California, where Lillian took up a new assignment at Edwards AFB in California. Fate then intervened in their lives again. A car accident resulted in a severe injury to Lillian's right hand, and she could no longer work as a court reporter. Lillian retired from the Civil Service, and she and Chester moved to Lancaster, California, to begin a new joint career in real estate.
In addition to her work as a realtor with Century 21, Lillian resumed her involvement in local political and community activities. She became active in the Antelope Valley Republican Women's Club and served as Consumer Concerns Chairman of the Lancaster Women's Club. She also served a term as District Chairman (Sierra Cahuenga District) of the California Federation of Women's Clubs. Lillian's specialty was arranging seminars on the stock market, insurance, S&Ls, real estate, Social Security, and estate planning. She traveled around the district, speaking to local women's groups on a subject very close to her heart, the importance of end-of-life planning and preparation for widowhood. A strong and independent woman herself, Lillian believed very strongly that women should be able to wisely and effectively manage their own finances.
Somehow, Lillian also carved out time to volunteer for the county of Los Angeles as a crisis intervention counselor. And, working with friends and neighbors, she and Chester helped raise money to create the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a cause that she continued to support throughout her life.
In 1975, Lillian took on a brand new challenge, throwing her hat in the ring for her district's Republican primary for California State Assembly. In her stump speech, she firmly stated her opposition to "a bulging bureaucracy, a permissive society, and gun control" and her concerns about rising crime and lowered educational standards. Lillian favored "reduction in taxes, efficiency in government, a return to those old-fashioned values like patriotism and Christian morality, and less restriction on free enterprise." She did not resort to paid advertising and accepted no campaign contributions. Although she was defeated in the primary, her passion for politics and public service never dulled.
By 1981, Lillian's hand was fully recovered and she was ready to resume her Civil Service career. After three years working for the Navy in San Diego, she applied for a court reporter's post at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, and got the position. Once again, she and Chester went to live abroad and explore the world. After the Incirlik assignment came to a close in the spring of 1990, Lillian and Chester indulged in a dream vacation, cruising to Dubrovnik, Corfu, Tangiers, Palma de Majorca, Rome, Nice, Monte Carlo and Venice. They then returned to San Diego, bought a condo in La Jolla, and again began putting down roots in a new community.
A few years later, Lillian retired from the Civil Service for the last time. Not surprisingly, she remained active and involved in the community. She and Chester were avid bridge players, members of La Jolla Presbyterian Church, and supporters of many local causes. Lillian also kept up her interest in real estate and the stock market. She was always a great fan of Warren Buffett, and traveling to the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' conference in Omaha was the highlight of each year.
On November 6, 2001, the light went out of Lillian's life when her beloved husband Chester died. Although she did her best to stay busy and active, walking for three hours each day and keeping up with her many interests, her heart was no longer in it. She missed Chester every hour of every day.
In May of 2008, Lillian suffered a crippling stroke while attending her final Berkshire Hathaway stockholders' conference in Omaha with her great-nephew Gary Frings and great-grand-nephew Zane Frings. Unable to live independently after the stroke, Lillian spent her final years in a care facility in Madison, Wisconsin, watched over by Gary and his family.
Lillian passed away February 6, 2012, in Madison, Wisconsin.
Lillian Silk Wheeler was preceded in death by her husband, Chester Lee Wheeler, and her parents, Morris and Rose (Davis) Silk. She is survived by her brother, Edward H. Silk of Manchester, New Jersey, and her cousin, Henry Wallfesh of Somerset, New Jersey.