Eleanor Powers DeFeo was “the darling of the Huntington Country Club,” so beautiful that she modeled for Lord & Taylor and once caught the eye of actor Marlon Brando, who danced with her on a London-bound ship, her family says.
But it was DeFeo’s inner beauty that was her legacy, those who knew her say. She never looked down on those less fortunate, couldn’t resist taking in a stray animal, and was always there to help those in need.
“People remember your kindnesses,” DeFeo’s daughter, Lauren DeFeo, said her mother used to say. “You help anyone who’s troubled and you treat people as you’d like to be treated — that’s what she taught us.”
Eleanor Powers DeFeo, who was born in Huntington and later lived in Cold Spring Harbor and Mount Sinai, died Oct. 13 of a brain infection at Good Shepherd Hospice’s Inpatient Center in Port Jefferson. She was 84.
Lauren DeFeo, who lives in Middle River, Maryland, and is one of DeFeo’s six children, said her mother learned kindness from her parents.
Eleanor DeFeo’s father, James Powers, was a bricklayer, and her mother, Ethel, was a stay-at-home mom.
“My grandfather never raised his voice and he was kind,” Lauren DeFeo recalled.
Lauren DeFeo said her mother’s kindness and generosity later grew as she grew older.
“While dad [the late Aldo DeFeo] was generous with innumerable monetary contributions to many charities, church organizations and family members, Mom was generous with her time and efforts for strangers, human and otherwise,” Lauren DeFeo said.
Included among those DeFeo helped were troubled children, injured kittens and the homeless.
“She always believed people and animals were as trustworthy and good as she was,” Lauren DeFeo said. “She picked up every hitchhiker and stray dog she came across. She fed homeless people and the ducks in Heckscher Park. She chauffeured the old, and saved a kitten whose paw had been crushed by a car door.”
Lauren DeFeo added her mother also took in the son of a good friend who had been neglected by his family. Lauren noted that once her mother gave a Jeep Cherokee to the son of a nanny from the neighborhood because he needed a vehicle to get to and from work.
Eleanor DeFeo’s sister, Carol Hine, of Miller Place, said that her sister was not only kind and generous, but she also had a lovely smile and was a lot of fun despite some sad chapters in her life. Included in those somber chapters were the deaths of two of her sons, Christopher James DeFeo and Michael Aldo DeFeo, who were both in their 20s.
“She just managed to smile through a lot of sadness in her life,” Hine said.
Eleanor DeFeo also distinguished herself in her jobs as a secretary over the years, said her daughter.
Lauren DeFeo said her mother was a secretary on “mahogany row” at Grumman where the company’s executive offices were located.
“She had beautiful handwriting and was a crossword puzzle queen,” said her daughter.
Eleanor DeFeo was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Huntington.
Other survivors include daughter Teri Dexter of Mount Sinai; sons Paul DeFeo of Huntington Bay, and Ronald DeFeo of Rehoboth, Massachusetts; her sister, Margery Walker of Mattituck; and nine grandchildren.