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Frances W. Esmonde, mother of News columnist ; Sept. 13, 1921 -- Jan. 22, 2011

Frances W. Esmonde, who fought for sex education in schools long before it was prevalent, died Saturday after a brief illness at the Wynwood Assistive Living Facility in Kenmore. She was 89.

Born and raised in New York City, the former Frances Wittreich accompanied her Army officer husband during World War II to stateside postings in Louisiana and Arkansas. She later set aside secretarial work to raise six children, born over a nearly 20-year span.

The suburban Long Island homemaker's civic activities included service as PTA president. It was through her then-controversial efforts that sex education was expanded in the mid-'60s in the district's elementary schools. She trimmed costs at home by learning barbering skills so she could cut her childrens' hair, often to their dismay.

Naturally athletic, she enjoyed camping, frequently joined her children in games of backyard catch and enthusiastically attended their sporting events. In her later years, she traveled cross-country with her husband and was an avid race-walker.

She moved in 2005 from Long Island to an assisted living facility in Kenmore. There she was an outgoing, vigorous presence who routinely -- into her late 80s -- walked upward of a mile to various village destinations. In recent years, she fractured her leg and pelvis in separate in-house falls, each time recovering her ability to walk unaided.

Her extended rehabs included walking laps around the facility's corridor, marking each circuit on a chart next to her apartment door. Her recuperative powers prompted her physician, Dr. Kenneth Garbarino, to routinely refer to her as "my superwoman."

"Mom was a vibrant physical presence, right up until the final weeks of her life," said her son, News columnist Donn Esmonde. "She will be greatly missed."

Her husband of 66 years, Thomas, died in 2008.

Survivors include three daughters, Frances de Usabel, Karron and Jeannine; and two additional sons, Peter and Christopher.

A memorial service is yet to be scheduled.


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