Thelma Keane; Wife Of Cartoonist Bil Keane

Thelma Keane was the real-life
Thelma Keane was the real-life "Family Circus" mother. (AP)
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By Amanda Lee Myers
Associated Press
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thelma Keane, 82, the inspiration for the Mommy in the long-running "Family Circus" comic strip created by her husband, Bil Keane, died May 23 at an assisted living facility near Paradise Valley, Ariz. She had Alzheimer's disease.

"Family Circus," which Bil Keane began drawing in 1960, depicts the good-humored life of two parents and their four children. The comic strip runs in about 1,500 newspapers.

Bil and Thelma "Thel" Keane met during World War II in a war bond office in Brisbane, Australia. She was a native Australian working as an accounting secretary, and he worked next to her as a promotional artist for the U.S. Army.

The two married in 1948 and moved to Bil Keane's home town of Philadelphia. They had five children and, in 1958, moved to the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley.

"She was the inspiration for all of my success," Bil Keane, 85, told the Associated Press from his home in Paradise Valley on Sunday. "When the cartoon first appeared, she looked so much like Mommy that if she was in the supermarket pushing her cart around, people would come up to her and say, 'Aren't you the Mommy in 'Family Circus?' And she would admit it."

The always-loving and ever-patient Mommy character also was named Thel.

Thelma Keane worked full-time as her husband's business and financial manager. Her family said she was the reason Bil Keane became one of the first syndicated newspaper cartoonists to win back all rights to his comic.

Bil Keane continues to produce "Family Circus" with the help of his youngest son, Jeff. Bil Keane sketches the ideas, characters and captions and sends them to Jeff for inking.

In addition to her husband and son, survivors include four other children and nine grandchildren.

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