Other Notable Deaths


May 26, 2008


Inspiration for mother

in Family Circus

Thelma Keane, the inspiration for the Mommy character in Family Circus, the comic created by her husband, Bil Keane, died Friday of Alzheimer's disease, her family said.

Family Circus, which Mr. Keane began drawing in 1960, depicts the good-humored life of two parents and their four children. It is featured in about 1,500 newspapers.

"She was the inspiration for all of my success," Mr. Keane, 85, told the Associated Press from his home in Paradise Valley, Ariz., yesterday. "When the cartoon first appeared, she looked so much like Mommy that if she was in the supermarket pushing her cart around, people would come up to her and say, 'Aren't you the Mommy in Family Circus?' - and she would admit it."

Bil and Thelma "Thel" Keane met during World War II in the war bond office in Brisbane, Australia. She was a native Australian working as an accounting secretary, and Bil worked next to her as a promotional artist for the U.S. Army.

"I had this desk alongside the most beautiful Australian 18-year-old girl with long brown hair," Mr. Keane said. "And I got up enough nerve to ask her for a date."

The two married in 1948 and moved to Mr. Keane's hometown of Philadelphia. They had five children and moved to the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley in 1958.

Not only was Mrs. Keane the inspiration for the ever-patient comic character - also named Thel - but she worked full time as her husband's business and financial manager. Her family says she was the reason Mr. Keane became one of the first syndicated newspaper cartoonists to win back all rights to his comic.

"There was nothing that I did in the cartoon world or in the business world that she wasn't the instigator of, and she certainly deserves all the credit that I get credit for," Mr. Keane said.

Mrs. Keane's Alzheimer's disease was diagnosed about five years ago, and she had been at an assisted-living center near the family home for the past three years, said her daughter, Gayle Keane, 58, of Napa, Calif.

Last month, Gayle Keane said, her mother was singing and dancing as the family visited her and celebrated her birthday.

"We all had a time to say goodbye in the end," Gayle Keane said.

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