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Helen Reilly, 89, lived life of joy and helped others amid personal losses

Helen Reilly’s life of nearly 90 years was centered on her faith, family, friends and love for her country.

"She had a big heart and was a Buffalo girl through and through," said her son, Kevin "Duke" Reilly. "My mother’s Catholic faith and her own kindness were central to who she was, the way she lived her life, and the way she raised our family."

Mrs. Reilly died Nov. 13 at Hospice Buffalo after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 89.

She was the fifth of six children born to the late Joseph and Ann (Amarose) Cardina, joining siblings Isabella, Joseph, Dorothy, Anne Marie and big sister to Angela. The family lived on Sterling Avenue and operated Cardina's confectionery store at 299 Parkside Ave., at Russell Street.

Mrs. Reilly graduated from Mount St. Joseph Academy on Main Street.

In the mid-1950s, she met Wayne R. Reilly at a Christmas cocktail party at the home of one of her sisters, followed by a dance at the Statler. On Feb. 12, 1955, they married in her parish church, St. Margaret Church on Hertel Avenue.

For the first few years of their marriage, the Reillys lived in an apartment above her parents' candy store. Around 1960 they moved to a house on Sterling Avenue, where they lived for 20 years and raised their five sons.

Mr. Reilly worked for the mechanical contracting firm John W. Danforth Co., becoming president in 1978 and chairman of the board and chief executive officer in 1993.

Mr. Reilly was a U.S. Army ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division. Mrs. Reilly was proud of his military service, as well as that of three of their sons and one grandchild.

"Service was very important to our mother," said Dennis Reilly, her eldest son. "She believed, heart and soul, in the importance of giving back."

Mrs. Reilly's life was marked by losses. Her son, Emmett, died in 2011, Mr. Reilly and son, Neil, died a few months apart in 2014, and son, Patrick, died in 2015.

"She never let losing her husband and three sons, or even her own illness, dampen her spirit or diminish her faith," said Kevin Reilly. "She always said, 'It is God’s will.' She had an infectious personality that stayed with her until the day she passed away."

Mrs. Reilly supported local schools and Catholic organizations throughout her life, establishing scholarships in her late sons' names at Canisius High School, Canisius College, Nichols School and Gateway Longview. She was a strong supporter of D’Youville College, the Sisters of St. Joseph and St. Margaret Church, among others.

She also helped establish the Reilly Family Foundation.

In addition to her home in Buffalo, Mrs. Reilly spent time on the beaches in Canada and Pompano Beach, Fla. She was a member of the Buffalo Club, Country Club of Buffalo, Cherry Hill Club in Ridgeway, Ont., and the Tower Club in Fort Lauderdale.

She was frequently seen with a crossword puzzle in her hand, but she drew the most joy from socializing with family and friends, her sons said.

"Her heart and her home were always open," Dennis Reilly said. "It didn’t matter if it was here in Buffalo, in Canada or in Florida, she was always welcoming people in. She enjoyed being with the people she cared about."

Mrs. Reilly's life contained some parallels that revealed themselves over decades. In her younger years, she volunteered at the former Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital, then, for the past year, lived at Canterbury Woods Gates Circle, near the site of former hospital. Days before she died, she made her final visit to to St. Margaret Church, where the church piano she once donated sits near a stained glass window donated by her parents.

"It was where she wanted to say goodbye," Kevin Reilly said. "She died peacefully with a rosary in her hands three days later."

In addition to her two sons, Mrs. Reilly is survived by three sisters, Dorothy Hausle, Anne Marie Peters and Angela Beck; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandchild. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Saturday in St. Margaret Catholic Church, 1395 Hertel Ave.

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