When Judge Robert Terry needed guidance – when he was on the bench at probate and family court in Barnstable, and he needed counsel – he would go to his friends’ Rita and Joe Killory's house, his neighbors in Sandwich. He wouldn’t call; he’d just go. And he’d sit in their living room and ask for their perspective.
“Of course I wouldn’t discuss names or anything like that nature," Terry said, "but especially when it related to issues related to children, I would discuss these things in depth with Rita and Joe, and get their feedback on it, so to speak, which was very helpful to me, you know?”
Throughout his career, Joe Killory led three school districts as superintendent, and he was the first executive director of the Metco Program. Rita Killory was his closest advisor. The couple met as students at Bridgewater State Teachers College.
“To observe the two of them interacting," Terry said. "It was really a great love story. And being so supportive of each other. And being married and together for over 60 years. And also the sense that they really believed in public education. They really believed in government helping people. And they are, of course, what we refer to as the greatest generation.”
Rita’s maiden name was Kearns, she grew up in Weymouth, a child of the Great Depression. She understood that people find themselves in different places in life. And from a young age, she was taught that no one is better than anyone else. Rita’s mother was very sick and died when Rita was young, and her son David Killory said his mother sometimes spoke about a black woman named Shirley Tuttle who cared for his grandmother.
“Shirley came to help my grandmother out with some basic things at the house," David said, "and she prepared lunch one day for my grandmother and my mom and she brought it to the dining room table and then she left to eat her own lunch in the kitchen. And my grandmother, in a pretty firm voice, said, 'Where are you going? You eat your lunch with us.'
"My own mom remembered that incident. She was just a young child. She was a little frightened that her mom got so angry but later understood when her mom explained to her, taught to her about prejudice, talked to her about prejudice against all different kinds of people."
In the 1960s, Rita was involved in the Civil Rights movement. Decades later, after she moved to Sandwich, she injected herself into a debate over a proposed town bylaw that threatened to punish businesses that hired undocumented workers. Rita was old enough to remember how her own family members were greeted with signs that read, “No Irish Need Apply”.
“My mom had aunts who had to leave the area where their religion was not known so they could get teaching jobs," David said. "So this had a strong influence on my own mom and it carried over to her own life and the values she gave us and the way she lived her life.”
Before their five children were born, Rita worked as a school teacher. When the children were older, she filled her schedule by volunteering. She touched countless lives assisting in elderly homes, at the town library, the Sandwich Glass Museum, and at a consignment shop that benefitted cancer patients, to name just a few.
In 2002, Terry said the Sandwich Board of Selectmen voted to honor Rita and commend her for her community work.
“Just the volume of her volunteerism," Terry said," I don’t think could be matched by anybody else. People do volunteer, but I don’t think they volunteer for 6, 7 or 8 different jobs over the course of the week. She really did have a full-time schedule volunteering. I’ve been living in Sandwich for 40 years, and I can’t remember one other occasion when the board of selectmen honored an individual in that manner.”
Friends and family describe Rita Killory as a moral compass, a person who comforted the lonely, fought for the underdog and championed people who were different from her and her family. She died on May 15. She was 90 years old when she died, and she lived thirty of those years in the town of Sandwich. She was known for her dry, Irish humor; her love of history, and her passion for the Boston Red Sox. And, her efforts to help others whenever she could..