Longtime resident mourned

BROOKLINE – Town residents, especially the many who were touched by her far-reaching, gentle hand of kindness, are mourning the recent death of Frances Kowalski, who lived in town with her family from 1969-94.

From the time she spotted a mentally handicapped boy walking aimlessly past her house on school days, Kowalski worked tirelessly as a voice and hands-on advocate for anyone less fortunate than she, her husband, Charles, and their six children.

“She couldn’t imagine that this was all that the world handed this kid,” said daughter Elaine McCartney of Hollis. A lifelong teacher, Kowalski – even while bringing up six kids of her own – got approval from the town to set up a classroom in her home so she could help the boy, and a neighboring girl, learn basic skills.

The experience led Kowalski to join the state’s early Title I movement, figuring prominently in its eventual passage.

“She would always say, ‘We need more for these kids,’” McCartney said.

Often called “Aunt Fran” by those she helped, Kowalski helped start the food pantry and clothing barn for the poor at St. Patrick Church in Milford, frequently doing more for parishioners she knew were in need.

“She once took in an entire family for nine months – they would have had to live in their car,” McCartney said. “Once they were back on their feet, they moved on.”

Kowalski occasionally took in friends of her children whose family lives were less than ideal. She developed a large network of resources to find help for anyone she learned was in need.

McCartney remembers her mom cooking dinner for the family, quietly wrapping three additional plates with which she’d mysteriously disappear while they ate. Later, McCartney learned that she was bringing meals to three elderly, homebound women in town who might otherwise go without.

After her own kids were grown, Kowalski began teaching special-needs kids in Brookline, Amherst and Milford, before moving to Hernando, Fla., with her husband in 1994. Not surprisingly, she wouldn’t hear of retirement, taking a job teaching English as a second language to youths and adults.

“Never once did I hear my mother raise her voice, even with all us kids,” McCartney said. “She dealt with things very well without yelling . . . she would use humor a lot. She was the funniest person you ever knew.

“She always gave (to others) so quietly, always looked for more that she could do for people,” McCartney said, “and never looked for anything in return. ‘I do it for love, for God,’ she would say.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6523 or shalhoupd@telegraph-nh.com.