When Margaret Heekin provided a photograph of her mother, Margaret Vito, to a funeral home after she died earlier this month, she selected a picture taken at a recent party.
In the photo, posted on the website of the A.L. Jacobsen Funeral Home in Huntington Station, Vito is wearing a bright red outfit and Mardi Gras-style mask with teal feathers. The photo, said Heekin, captured her mother's fun-loving spirit. "That was Mom," Heekin said Friday. "That was her, and that's how she wanted to be remembered."
Vito, of Dix Hills, former president of the private Greenhill Country Day School in Woodbury, died at Huntington Hospital on Jan. 18 from respiratory failure. She was 86.
Born April 10, 1925, in Newark, Vito received master's and doctorate degrees from Columbia University. In a varied career, she was an educator, worked with comedian Soupy Sales and Muppets creator Jim Henson in the early days of children's television, and, during World War II, worked as a private pilot ferrying supplies from Long Island to New Jersey, her daughter said.
"I think secretly she really wanted to be a fighter pilot," said Heekin, of Parlin, N.J.
For decades, Vito was president and co-owner of Greenhill, which catered to the children of wealthy New Yorkers. The school offered a full academic program for 700 children up to first grade, and in the summer became a camp with swimming, archery, and arts and crafts, Heekin said. Vito sold the school in the 1970s, and it has since closed. At parties, Vito rubbed elbows with oil tycoons and former President Herbert Hoover -- upon whom she accidentally spilled champagne, Heekin said.
Vito later worked with youth struggling with drug problems, Heekin said. Tom Vito, a Dix Hills fire inspector and Vito's husband of 44 years, died in 1992.
Heekin said her mother had a gift for recognizing when a student's academic struggles stemmed from vision and hearing problems. "She really didn't recognize a box," said Heekin. "People say, 'Think outside the box.' Mom said, 'What's a box?' "
Besides her daughter, Vito is survived by her son-in-law, Francis Heekin. A funeral Mass was said on Monday at St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church in Huntington. Burial was Monday at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Huntington.