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Andrea Cilley


Gender: Female

Date of Death: January 11, 2007

Death Place: Brookline, MA

Andrea Cilley

Remembering her laugh, smile and ‘Cilley’ness Andrea Cilley, administrator for Brookline Commission for the Arts, dead at 51

James Arzente remembered this one time at a meeting when his artist friend was telling a story, drawing out the buildup and picking her words carefully and vaguely.

He interrupted her, guessing the clues in her story were about a transsexual. No, no, she jumped in, eyes wide. She was talking about a glass blower.

Anyone else might have been embarrassed or flustered by the mix-up. But he said Andrea Cilley threw her blonde mane back and roared with laughter.

“She was just funny as hell,” said Arzente, a member of the Brookline Commission for the Arts. “I would walk into these meetings half-asleep half of the time and she would just be vibrant. It was hard not to laugh, smile or wake up [around her].”

Cilley, administrator for the arts commission and fervent recycling activist known for her infectious laugh and giving nature, died last Thursday, Jan. 11, after experiencing a sudden, unexplained brain aneurysm two days earlier. She was 51.

Friends and colleagues remember the Heath Street single mother of two as a “free spirit” bursting with enthusiasm and passion for everything from arts to environmentalism.

“She really lived what she believed in,” said Sara Dassel, a friend of five years who teamed up with her on the arts commission. “She really felt like where she lived was sort of like an extension of her life and just wanted to help make things better.”

Many who knew Cilley knew of her passion for nature, and it eventually led her to find love and companionship with Ed Gilbert, the town’s environmental health supervisor, when the two worked on a recycling project in July 2005.

“She taught me how to smile bigger, love harder, give more and be a better person than I was,” Gilbert said. “I found a purpose for my life because of her. I am lost right now without her.”

Meanwhile, others emphasized Cilley was more than involved in her community – the Runkle School parent and member of the Solid Waste Advisory Council was fully integrated in it.

“She obviously was a parent in our school, but that doesn’t do it justice. She was a presence in our school,” said Runkle Principal David Summergrad. “She had a kind of energy and life force that makes her death all the more unreal to us. She sort of vibrated when she talked.”

Cilley – a former member of the Nutrition Advisory Board who had once told the TAB she wanted schools to “give ‘peas’ a chance” – also helped out with the Runkle After School Program, Runkle parent-teacher organization events and coordinating recycling programs at all schools.

Longtime friend Mary Murphy – who, as transportation director for Brookline schools recruited Cilley to be a van monitor for students with disabilities – also emphasized the Weymouth native’s bottomless compassion.

“We’re speechless because I’m not sure words could ever truly express how much she meant to our community,” she said.

As for Cilley’s final act of giving (and recycling), friends say she had all of her organs donated.

When asked to describe Cilley, many spoke of her fiery drive to make both her community and the world a better place, whether that meant combining her love of art and recycling to create the Town Hall “recycling tree” or simply taking neighborhood children on nature walks.

“She was such a whirlwind of positive energy – you’re kind of exhausted after meeting her, but it’s all good, positive energy,” said John Dempsey, former Devotion School principal and fellow SWAC member.

But more than anything, friends and loved ones recalled Cilley’s tinkling laughter, her silly playfulness and fun-loving personality.

Charles Cilley Jr., her brother, also said he would miss his sister’s “bright and sunshiney” personality, and recalled how his little sister’s comedic presence even came out in her musical talents.

“She played trumpet and piano – at the same time,” said Cilley, of Dover, N.H. “She was the only one nutty enough to do it.”

Surviving her is her daughter, Aila Murphy, 12, and her son, Carson, 8. She also leaves behind her mother, Dorothy Cilley of Weymouth; her brother, Charles Jr.; her brother, David Cilley of Maine; and her brother, Timothy Cilley of Maine. She is also survived by boyfriend Ed Gilbert of Lexington, two nephews, one niece and her canine companion, Maya.

Funeral services will be held at the First Church in Weymouth, 17 Church St., on Thursday, Jan. 25, at 11 a.m. Burial will follow at the Pine Hill Cemetery in Dover, N.H.

The family asks memorial donations be sent to an animal shelter of the donor’s choice.

Jessica Scarpati can be reached at jscarpat@cnc.com.

“She felt a responsibility and a commitment to just be involved,” said Sara Dassel, former chairwoman of the Brookline Commission for the Arts, about longtime friend Andrea Cilley, 51, the commission’s administrator, who died of a brain aneurysm last week.

Published in the Brookline TAB (MA) – January 25, 2007