Obituary of Frances Keller Mills
The family plans to have a celebration of life service in honor of Frances in Vermont during the summer of 2024.
Frances Keller Mills
Frances Keller Mills passed away peacefully with family at her side on Friday, October 20th in her Montclair home at the age of 94. Frances was determined to have a great final summer in Vermont which she accomplished by spending time with her daughters, close friends, neighbors, grandchildren and great grandchildren before her passing.
She considered herself very lucky from the start. She was born on August 6, 1929 in Frederick, Maryland to Frances and Otho James Keller III. She loved growing up in idyllic Frederick with the freedom it allowed despite the war years. Fourteen years as a camper and later as a counselor starting at age 6 at Camp Strawderman in Edinburg, Virginia impacted her life immensely. She developed skills, values and confidence that would carry her through a long and interesting life.
After graduating from Frederick High School in 1946, Frances planned to experience the wider world. She was one of two students to take the SATs in her class, researched colleges and decided to head to the Northeast. No Greek life for her! She changed her name to Fritzi. Upon graduation from Connecticut College in 1950 with a BA in Art History, Frances made her way to New York City where she worked briefly for McCall's Magazine and a design studio. She liked to recall her summer trips, first to help with the war recovery effort in England, and also in 1950 as a student tour leader in Europe. Thus began her lifelong passion for traveling coast to coast and all over the world! Travel excited and energized her.
James T. Mills, a Princeton and Yale-educated lawyer, proposed marriage one last time to Frances in Manhattan, and their wedding followed soon afterwards on June 16, 1951. She knew he was too good to pass up! The couple moved to Montclair where she lived until her death. The birth of their four daughters followed in quick succession starting in 1953. The couple had many happy years together and were able to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary before Jim passed away in July of 2016.
Frances contributed to many different organizations in Montclair and tried her hand at entrepreneurship as well. She performed with the Junior League of Montclair and the famous Montclair Operetta Club. She worked with women from the Montclair Historical Society who became lifelong friends to restore the Israel Crane House to its authentic Colonial American glory. She wrote with others two different historical cookbooks: Fanny Pierson Crane - Her Receipts, published in 1974; and The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook, published in 1976 to coincide with our country’s bicentennial. She also worked as the buyer for the Crane House general store by sourcing unusual products from toy fairs. She and her close friend Elizabeth Shull ran an import company called Franelli. Frances enjoyed taking marketing courses at Columbia University’s School of Business. Frances was a member of the Garden Club of Montclair for many years. She also shared her talents as a devoted volunteer for the Montclair Art Museum.
Frances took much pride in her role planning and running Conference Board meetings that were held around the world when her husband was president from 1981 to 1988. She dropped the nickname Fritzi and became Frances again.
A big part of Frances’ life was her time spent in Vermont. In Londonderry with Barbara and Larry Keller, their families enjoyed the Keller-Mills house that her husband Jim built with the Kellers. Later, once her daughters got married and had families of their own, Frances and Jim moved to a beautiful property in Landgrove. She lived and breathed flowers, colors and design in her Vermont gardens, pastures and ponds. For most of her life she loved to get her hands in the rich soil on summer mornings. As a member of the Green Mountain Gardeners since 1991, Frances hosted garden tours at her property, supported events and meetings, and loved sharing her encyclopedic knowledge of plants with fellow gardeners. Frances was a member of the Colonial Dames and served as the Vermont Lady of the Dumbarton House Board for ten years (2004-2014).
Through luck, pluck and her daughters’ dedication, Frances was able to spend her last summer in Vermont to catch up with family and so many good friends and to relish the stunning surroundings. She remained very curious about many subjects and people, especially her family, investments, and the state of the world. She was always ready for an amusing anecdote and a good time. Many of those good times she planned herself. She certainly knew how to entertain! In 2019, she managed her own 90th birthday party with close attention to details including what craft beer to serve and the traffic flow of guests. Frances could have been morose dealing with very challenging medical obstacles, but she showed us courage and grace. She had a knack for engaging and connecting with people. We will all miss her kindness and generosity.
Frances was predeceased by her husband, James T. Mills in 2016, and her brother Otho James Keller IV in 2017. Frances is survived by her sister, Catherine (Kitty) Crum and husband Clyde; her four daughters, Libby Durkee (Scott Durkee), Hilary Lambert (Brian Lambert), Frances Wonnell (Jon Wonnell) and Peggy Kaplan (Andrew Kaplan); 10 grandchildren; and 4 great grandchildren, with 2 more on the way.To plant a beautiful memorial tree in memory of Frances Mills, please visit our Tree Store