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Helen J. Foley

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Active in the Fitchburg community; 101

FITCHBURG -- Helen J. Foley, 101, passed away on Thursday, September 27, 2012, at Sunrise Assisted Living in Leominster, MA, after a long and happy life.

Helen was the third of six daughters born to Hulda (Nilsson) Johnson and Carl Johnson, who immigrated to Fitchburg from Sweden in 1908. She was born on Harrison Avenue in Fitchburg on June 26, 1911, and the family moved to Pearl Street when Helen was nearly two. It was here that Helen spent her childhood and later, across the street, where she spent most of her adult life.

Helen graduated Fitchburg High School in 1929 and went to work for Montuori's Transportation Company, where she worked in the office helping organize the transportation routes and deliveries. It was during this time that she met Thomas R. Foley, Sr., a Leominster native, at a local dance, and they married in 1934. Helen and Tom had two children, Jean and Thomas, Jr., and they eventually built a house on Pearl Street, across the street from Helen's parents. Helen's sisters also chose to stay on Pearl Street where they raised their families together, and remained very connected in each other's lives.

Tom and Helen owned F.L. Drury, an S.S. Pierce & Co. specialty food store located on Main Street in Fitchburg. They ran the store from 1948 until it closed in 1977. Although Tom spent more time at the store, they both enjoyed the connection that it allowed them to foster with the Fitchburg community. Helen also participated in the Fitchburg community in other ways: she was lifetime member of the Rollstone Congregational Church, she belonged to the Friends of the Fitchburg Public Library, and she was a member of Oak Hill Country Club for 70 years.

Helen was an avid reader who always had a crossword puzzle within reach. She had a true love of words and languages. She grew up speaking Swedish at home, and she enjoyed studying French in school. Even decades later, while traveling through Europe with her sisters, it was Helen who served as the translator for the group.

Helen was quiet and thoughtful, but also a terrific storyteller. She had the Flu of 1918, saw the Beatles in concert in the 1960s, won a bright red sports car when she was in her 80s, and successfully navigated the digital age, keeping in touch with family and friends on her computer. After decades of patient observation, and with her sharp memory that remained intact, she loved to talk about the changes that she witnessed over the course of her life.

Helen was predeceased by her husband, Thomas R. Foley, Sr., and her two children, Jean Foley Rex and Thomas R. Foley, Jr. She was also predeceased by her five sisters, Ebba Wood, Doris Johnson, Mildred Johnson, Avis Fairbanks, and Elsie Walsh. Helen, known to her grandchildren as "Gabby," is survived by her five granddaughters and their husbands, Sarah and John Geary of Bryn Mawr, PA; Betsy and Bill Barnes of Piedmont, CA; Susan Rex of Denver, CO; Jodi and Bob Forsyth of Wilson, WY; and Nicole and Braden Clement of Portland, ME; as well as 10 great-grandchildren.

She is also survived by two nephews and a niece, Barry Wood of Wolfeboro, NH; Terrence Walsh of Port Charlotte, FL; and Lorna Griggs of the Cayman Islands.

Helen was a kind, loving, and gentle soul who led by example. Her wisdom,humor and strength will be greatly missed by all who knew her.

FOLEY -- A celebration of Helen's life is currently being planned by her five granddaughters. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Joslin Diabetes Center, One Joslin Place, Suite 745, Boston, MA 02215, of which Helen was a lifelong supporter. The Aubuchon-Moorcroft Funeral Home in Fitchburg is assisting the family with arrangements.

Published in Sentinel & Enterprise on Oct. 5, 2012
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