Lucy Flowers, 75, a beauty inside and out

Lucy Flowers
Lucy Flowers
Posted: August 12, 2014

I T WAS HARD to be the daughter of a woman so breathtakingly beautiful she would regularly invite comparisons to Sophia Loren.

On the one hand, there was the pride that came from basking in the reflected, albeit undeserved, admiration of strangers.

On the other hand, it made being a teenager in the '70s (not the kindest era to the already awkward) a depressing slog.

But the surface beauty of Lucy Flowers, my mother, was nothing compared to the quality of her heart, which, if there is any justice, will be used as a template for future angels.

Lucy died Friday after a long illness. She was 75, an age that once seemed very old to me and is now, devastatingly, insufficient.

She was a child of West Philadelphia, born to Philomena "Mamie" and Mike Fusco, first-generation Italians. Baptized at our Lady of Angels, where she attended grade school, Lucy was the product of one of those old, vanished communities where Italians and Irish coexisted in a semi-peaceful armistice.

It's hard to believe that there was a cultural divide as wide as the one that separated Tony and Maria in West Side Story, but ask any native of 52nd Street in the '40s and '50s and you'll get a knowing look.

So, when Lucy went to West Catholic Girls and met a St. Tommy More guy named Ted Flowers walking home from school, his red-headed, freckled pedigree caused Mamie and Mike to wring their hands when Lucy and Ted started to date.

Dating led to an engagement, after Lucy graduated in 1956, an engagement that lasted many long months while Ted was stationed at a remote NORAD Army post in Thule, Greenland. She sent long, loving letters on an almost daily basis, and there's a photo of Dad surrounded by those letters and in front of a photo of his sweetheart.

He came home, they married, she worked two - sometimes three - jobs and helped put Ted through school. For the last year of college they went to Baltimore, where I was born.

Family legend has it that when Mom told Dad they were expecting, he panicked and got upset because there wasn't any money. She fled home on a bus to Philly, and the next day Dad went home to get her.

I can only imagine how scared she must have felt, yet her steely strength (and Italian stubbornness) kept her company on the Greyhound. Those two qualities would serve her well later on.

I was born in 1961, and four years later (we call that period "Law School") my brother Teddy was born, followed closely by three other kids, a usually happy tribe that Mom essentially raised on her own because my father was out tilting at civil-rights windmills or racking up an impressive list of legal victories in the '60s and '70s.

Lucy was the one who raised us, fed us, bought us the (sometimes horrendous polyester) clothes we wore, bandaged our knees, drove us to activities and tucked us in at night. Dad rarely came home before 11, so she essentially raised us alone.

And then, when my father died of cancer in 1982, she actually did raise us alone - five kids who owe everything they ever were or accomplished to her guidance, humor, understanding, wisdom and checkbook.

My mother raised three lawyers - including me - and a physical therapist and a marketing director.

She could fix any leak, repair any splintered chair, sew dresses that would put Baby Dior to shame, and cook.

Oh, could she cook! It would be difficult to single out one particular signature dish (and anyway, people who have "signature dishes" usually can't cook anything else), but my personal favorites were pepper-and-egg frittatas that were so light they hovered above the plate, and meatballs that were dense and dark and deliciously vague. I had no idea what was in them. I didn't care.

There was also the bowl of Crisco-based icing she'd make for me, fluffy with confectioner's sugar and redolent of vanilla. I'm not certain she felt any guilt about feeding me this stuff, but I was able to eat it only when no one else could bear witness.

Lucy had a life that, like many of her generation, was laced with sorrow. The early death of my father at 43 was a deep blow, as was the sudden death of her mother while the two were out riding and Mamie had a heart attack in the back seat.

Nothing, though, was as fierce as the gut punch of losing my brother, Jonathan, when he was only 30.

But she was a strong woman, and stayed strong for the rest of us in her circle.

And if there was sorrow, there was also great joy. The greatest of all joys was the birth of my nephew in 2008. Alexander gave her a reason to become a child again, rolling around in the grass, playing on the swings (she flew as delightedly high as the 3-year-old) and ransoming her waking hours to SpongeBob.

It is a love affair for the ages. Now I know why Mom never remarried; she was holding all of that love in escrow for her grandson.

Lucy became ill in February, and was hospitalized until June, when we took her home to be with her family. And it was that family that sat with her, cared for her and kept her company to the peaceful end.

My sister, Tara, was especially devoted, doing the difficult tasks that defy the squeamish heart. She was the baby, and became the mother.

In addition to her two daughters, Lucy is survived by her son and traveling companion, Theodore, who used to spend hours exploring the back roads of the Delaware Valley with her riding shotgun.

She also is survived by her beloved Alex, who knows that his "Ghee" got a corner room in heaven to watch over him. She was predeceased by her parents, her husband, her son Jonathan and her brother Louis Fusco.

Mom's service will be a visitation from 7 to 9 tonight at McConaghy Funeral Home, 328 W. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore. Burial will be private.


Email: cflowers1961@gmail.com

Blog: philly.com/flowers

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