Much loved, native Woodstocker Linda Sweeney died of natural causes on February 26 at Kingston Hospital, where she had been in treatment for a week. She was 80 years old.
Linda was the only child of a relatively short-lived marriage between noted painter and lithographer Margaret Lowengrund — whose popular B&W prints appeared often in metropolitan magazines and newspapers in the 30’s & 40’s — and Joseph Lilly, Tax Commissioner for the La Guardia administration, who somewhere or other also found time to win two Pultizer Prizes in journalism on the subject of graft in city government. While residing both in Manhattan and on Yerry Hill Road in Woodstock (Linda preferred to say “Ohayo Mountain” — and quite accurately, too) her parents’ ambitious, if hectic marriage came unglued while Linda was still in Woodstock Elementary School (then located where the CVS stands today) — at which point her young life took on something of a novelistic quality. Mother Margaret — who also ran her own Madsion Avenue gallery — was a society woman, without time or inclination to rear a sensitive child, and so placed Linda in the care of several Woodstock friends, most notably Clark and Gertrude Neher, parents of Barry, Andre and Jane (later Jane Keefe). Linda’s childhood friends soon included Pam Feeley, Nancy Haney, Cornelia Hartmann (later Rosenblum) Judy Small, Jane Keefe, Jean White, and Audrey Webster Prevo.
Like many a teen-age girl, Linda was horse-crazy, and it’s been recalled that she and her friend Audrey galloped around on their cow ponies, loudly herding unsuspecting cattle usually left to fatten up, unmolested. Her friend Judy Small remembers that Linda and she seriously set about learning to cook in their early teens — because their mothers “didn’t.” From what I could discern of family lore, Jean White and Linda often rode to and from Woodstock Elementary School, boarding their horses at what for many years was known locally, simply, as “The Red Barn” —tucked into the hill below the back of the Woodstock Cemetery at the very end of Elwyn Lane, where, for instance, The James Cox Gallery first resided 25 years back.
Linda boarded at Oakwood School for a year, living by herself in Woodstock at The Twin Gables that summer, before returning to Manhattan and the prestigious Dalton School, where she edited The Year Book, and, graduating from which, was accepted to attend Antioch College.
Of her father even less is known, except his second marriage produced Linda two younger half-brothers, and at twelve she was placed, alone, on the Queen Mary (then used as a troop ship transporting “The US Fighting Man” back from WWII). Two weeks later, Joe Lilly, working for UNESCO in Geneva, retrieved a highly excited daughter from a dock somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic. From that early adventure forward, Linda developed a passion for travel she pursued actively in later years, as a purge against the vicissitudes of a deeply felt nature. All in all, she visited China, Russia, Vietnam, Europe, Alaska and South America.
Her marriage to Kevin Sweeney took place in 1953 at Woodstock’s Roman Catholic Church — today the Community Center — after a courtship of many years. In fact, the two first met at one of the famous Maverick Festival’s Masque’d Balls (a smaller, better-chaperoned version of the bacchanal said by some to have inspired a more famous festival borrowing the town name…). Kevin, who at 19 had hitch-hiked up from his home in Brooklyn, was given a free ticket to the party — his reward for changing a tire. This being the first of Sweeney’s many catch-as-catch-can journeys to visit Linda Lilly in Woodstock, who, upon that first meeting (and though a mere 14 years old) knew “this!” would be the man she’d marry.
Something of an Irish-American gypsy “without clear calling,” soon-to-be-millionaire Kevin, at 23 or thereabouts, was living in sin with his first love, Linda, during her one and only year at Antioch…when the creation of their first child, a daughter, Shannon, hastened a return to Woodstock, and almost as speedy a marriage. Proud, young, newlywed parents resided in New York City (where Shannon was born) while Kevin attended Columbia, with second-daughter Bridget debuting in ‘56. In ‘63 Linda and Kevin returned to the town each them — together and separately — would never leave for long, ever again.