Even as she fought a second bout of cancer last year, Eileen J. Kavanagh, longtime director of the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library, continued to work from home, spending days on her couch fretting over the library's operating budget.
That came as no surprise to those who knew her well. They described Kavanagh as devoted to the library and integral to its success over her 42-year career.
Kavanagh began working at the library in 1970 as a reference and young adult services librarian and became director 21 years later -- the position she held when she died Aug. 13 at her Bay Shore home from endometrial cancer. She was 66.
"She was a diligent and devoted public servant. There aren't many people like that anymore," said Donna Periconi, president of the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Chamber of Commerce, which honored Kavanagh with its Citizen of the Year award in 2005.
Kavanagh was born in Brooklyn on July 11, 1946. Her father was a city employee; her mother a nurse. During elementary and middle school, she read the classic novel "Little Women" 15 times, said her brother, Eugene Kavanagh, 65, of Wesley Chapel, Fla. "She always had a book with her," he said.
The family moved to Farmingdale in 1956. Kavanagh graduated from Queen of the Rosary Academy in Amityville. She earned a degree in literature in 1968 from the since-closed Ladycliff College in Highland Falls, N.Y., and the next year received a master's in library science from Columbia University.
She pushed successfully in 2005 for a $10 million, voter-approved expansion and renovation of the library and meticulously oversaw it.
"Her biggest thing was public service," said Rodney G. Marve, the library's assistant director. "She thought that everyone who walked through that door deserved the very best we could offer."
She received her first cancer diagnosis in 2003. Doctors told her in 2008 that she had beaten the disease, but it returned the following year.
"In her heart of hearts, she was a researcher," Marve said. "She liked to know things. I guess in another life, she would have been a great detective."