Gwendolyn Felicia Reilly was born on February 16, 1934 in New York City, the second of four children born to Aramintha and Eugene Reilly. The family grew up in Spanish Harlem. She graduated from Mabel Dean Bacon Vocational High School and worked at various jobs. On July 5, 1955, she married Leo James Carr. They had three children together. The couple separated in 1958, and Gwendolyn moved with her parents to the St. Albans section of Queens, New York. She would have two more children and raise them in Queens.
The time when her children were school-aged in the late 1960s was a time of change in New York City, and in the United States. The courts had ruled that segregation in schools and other public places was illegal. The neighborhoods in New York City were segregated because of housing patterns. Schools in black neighborhoods were overcrowded and lacked resources. Gwendolyn was active in the fight for more resources and programs at the local school. When those efforts did not bring about change to the local school, she was among the first parents to take advantage of a school integration program that sent black children to white schools with better resources.
The St. Albans community also invested in the well-being of their children, through programs such as the St. Albans Children’s Chorus, which taught classical music to children. Supporters included Count Basie and Marian Anderson. Gwendolyn enrolled her eldest two children in the chorus, handing down the love of music that she got from her parents. She continued to work full-time, including jobs at the New York City Human Resources Administration, and the NYPD, where she was among the first police administrative aides at the new 911 emergency system in the 1970s.
On the block where we lived in Queens, Gwendolyn was known as the neighborhood mom. Kids from around the neighborhood would stop by to chat, chill, eat, talk, and listen to music. She cared for her parents in their elder years.
Gwendolyn found her way to Washington State when her third daughter was stationed at Fort Lewis. She decided to stay in Washington and helped make a way for her two sons and eldest niece to relocate from New York and settle in Washington. She worked as an arts and crafts instructor at the Al Dave’s Boys Club and had a fledgling educational toy business. Gwendolyn was also a talented artist making and selling ceramic figurines and other handmade items. She had the opportunity to fulfill her lifelong dream to spend time in the land where her parents were born, St. Croix, Virgin Islands.
For over 10 years, her son Kenneth lovingly cared for her. His children also provided assistance with her care in recent years and a special appreciation and gratitude goes to them. Gwendolyn is predeceased by her parents, Eugene and Aramintha; brothers Raymond and Eugene Jr.; former husband, Leo; a stillborn son; daughter Karen; and granddaughter Delenn. She leaves to cherish her memories, sister Sylvia; children Cynthia, Angela, Kenneth and Herman; 16 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren; various family and friends.
Celebration of life 12 noon Saturday March 20, 2021 at Scott Funeral Home