MARBLEHEAD — Cecelia Tovah (Fishman) Wheeler, 84, died of complications related to Alzheimer’s in the early morning hours of Jan. 11 with her devoted daughter by her side.
The daughter of Joseph and Blanche (Kofsky) Fishman, Ceil grew up in Lynn, where she attended Lynn English (Class of ’49) and as a teenager, traveled frequently to New York City to live and work with her older sister, (the pre-deceased) Kraney Kaufman.
Ceil fondly told stories of her early years growing up in the back of her beloved father’s West Lynn Store. She would light up recalling that Joe’s Variety Store boasted a now old-fashioned soda fountain — a huge attraction for neighborhood kids. After the sudden passing of her adored mother at age 10, Ceil made her home with her cherished Aunt Rissie and kind uncle Louie Chalek on Ocean Street in Lynn.
Ceil attended Salem State Teachers College (class of ’54) where she met lifelong friends that became, Septimus (we 7). These devoted friends met monthly for more than 60 years.
A wonderful singer to the end, CeCe filled every room with song. Remarkably, she was able to recall lyrics and sing in key, long after other memories were erased. Ceil shared and passed her love of song, dance, fashion, and performance onto her children. Bedtime was always accompanied by the soundtrack of hit musicals of the time like Cabaret, Carousel, and Man of La Mancha. Her children embraced these gifts and have passed the love of arts, dance, and music on to their children as well.
Ceil met her future husband and love of her life, (the pre-deceased) Dr. Herbert Wheeler on Fisherman’s Beach. They established their first home in Wyoma Square, Lynn, and then moved to their beloved “Tree House” built by Herb on Salem Harbor in Marblehead in 1964. There they raised two children, Brian and Beth. With blazing sunset views and the harbor as their backyard, they shared 50 years in their beautiful home and more than 60 years together. In her home, family and friends recall that Ceil was always the consummate hostess.
After college, Ceil worked as a first grade teacher at the Hadley School in Lynn. As children came, Ceil focused on motherhood and family. After her own children entered grade school, Ceil returned to her career as a fashion model in Boston and New York. For many years, she also supported Herb in his optometric practices and in the early 1980s, Ceil expanded on her love of fashion by opening the retail clothing store Windfall in Marblehead.
Ceil was an early supporter of LGBTQ rights. She was an activist for AIDS awareness and was an original member of the local AIDS Action Awareness Committee. If you knew Ceil you were instantly part of the family, no matter your life choices. In their later years, Ceil and Herb would drive to their adopted town of Ogunquit, Maine, and enjoyed sharing songs with countless friends at the infamous Front Porch piano bar. There, Ceil was truly in her element as the “Queen of the Queens!”
Ceil will be missed by friends and family leaving son Brian S. Wheeler and daughter Beth A. Wheeler of Marblehead; grandchildren Jake Corcoran of New York, Abby Wheeler of New York, and Jamie Wheeler of Marblehead, along with devoted daughter-in-law, Gale E. Argentine of Marblehead, who helped manage her care for many years. Ceil is now at rest again beside the love of her life, Herb, at the Pride of Lynn Cemetery, Lynn.
The Wheeler family would like to thank the staff of Lafayette Nursing Home in Marblehead for their caring service of their mother. In lieu of flowers, the family invites donations in Ceil’s name to Care Dimensions/Kaplan Family Hospice House, 70 Liberty St., Danvers, in thanks for their dedicated service to area families at their most tender time of need.
Service information: Burial service will be Sunday, Jan. 14 at 10 a.m. at Pride of Lynn Cemetery, Lake Shore Road, Lynn. Service to follow at 11 a.m. in STANETSKY-HYMANSON Memorial Chapel, 10 Vinnin St., Salem. Ceil will be at rest again beside husband, Herb, for eternity.