Psychotherapist and longtime Northport resident Mildred Willen in an undated...

Psychotherapist and longtime Northport resident Mildred Willen in an undated photo. Credit: Willen family

The phrase “Love what you do and who you are with” was the mantra Mildred Willen lived by, according to her family.

“Millie was sunshine to me,” said Willen's best friend, Myra Fischman, of Huntington. “She always saw the positives in things and was the greatest listener. No one listened like Millie.”

The psychotherapist and longtime Northport resident was known for her warm smile, whimsical garden and love of family and friends, according to her daughter Liz Willen. She died from a stroke on Feb. 8 at the age of 94.

Mildred L. Willen was born on Aug. 7, 1929, in Brooklyn. Her father worked in the Garment District and commuted from the family’s railroad flat in Coney Island, where Willen developed her lifelong love of the ocean. She later moved to the Bronx, where she found inspiration reading books on the fire escape.

After graduating from Washington Irving High School, Willen studied sociology at Hunter College. She met her future husband, former family court judge Morton Willen, in the Catskills.

“Their first date involved dancing, corned beef sandwiches and cream sodas,” Liz Willen said.

In 1946, Morton entered the Army and was stationed in Kokura, Japan, as part of the Army of Occupation after World War II. Upon his return, he reconnected with Mildred, and the two were married in 1949. They bought their first home in Levittown and had three children. In 1967, the family moved into a Victorian home in Northport once owned by an oyster captain.

Willen was always eager to help a good cause. In her younger years, she marched for civil rights in Washington, and in her 90s, she was at the Northport farmers market on Saturday mornings registering people to vote.

“She would always say, 'There’s an eraser on every pencil. Don’t be stuck, be resourceful,' ” Liz Willen said. “She was passionate about affordable housing and upset that it took so long to have ground broken on Matinecock Court, the affordable housing complex in Northport.”

Mildred Willen earned her master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University. She worked with addicts at the now-defunct Topic House before joining the Geraldine Pederson-Krag Center as a clinical psychotherapist and ultimately starting her own practice, retiring at age 85. It was at the center where she met Fischman.

“We met in workshops and got along very well. We traveled a lot together and would sit on her beautiful porch in Northport and talk about nature and flowers,” said Fischman, a therapist, of her 52-year friendship with Willen. “Millie knew everybody; she was like the mayor. Anywhere we went people knew and loved her.”

An avid reader — who was never without a book or newspaper, according to Fischman — Willen also loved gardening, swimming, ballet, bird-watching, walking through Northport and traveling.

According to her family, Willen was the kind of grandmother who “had an individual relationship with each of her grandchildren.”

“She'd wake them up to watch the sunrise, take them into the city to see shows and museums, and attend all of their games and performances,” Liz Willen said. “She made sure they all found joy, as she did, in nature, books, music and art.”

In addition to Liz, Willen is survived by her husband, Morton; daughter Amy Spiros; son, Joe; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her brother, artist Murray Reich.

Services took place at Nolan Funeral Home, followed by burial on Feb. 9 at Northport Rural Cemetery. Donations can be made to Housing Help, the League of Women Voters and the Northport Historical Society.

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