Ever True

Love Has Made a Difference
At 100 years old, “going on 75,” Lillian Affleck ’44 has put in at least six decades of service to others.

By Noble Brigham ’24 / June–August 2023
June 22nd, 2023
Photo: David DelPoio

When Lillian Carneglia Affleck ’44 arrived at the Brown Faculty Club for her 100th birthday party, it would’ve been easier for her to walk in through the accessible entrance in the back. Instead, to the dismay of her sons, she climbed up the steep steps and came in the front door. 

Affleck is one of the few living alumni who experienced Brown in the World War II years and can remember when tuition was $400, but if you met her without knowing she just became a centenarian, you’d probably guess she was much younger. 

It’s not just that she looks younger. She’s also energetic and vibrant. She still drives, lives independently, cooks Italian food, and drinks a scotch and soda almost every day at 5. And she still has a great sense of humor. 

If Affleck doesn’t seem like she’s 100 to others, it’s hard for her to understand too. “I don’t believe it,” she says. “I don’t believe it’s me. This is all like a dream to me.”

“She’s 100, going on 75,” says her son John. 

Affleck was born in Pawtucket, where her father, an Italian immigrant, owned a bakery. When the time came for her to go to college, she picked Pembroke “just because it was local,” she says. She would’ve been too homesick elsewhere. 

She was a day student, which meant she lived at home and divided her life between school and family. She was part of the glee club and on the Brun Mael yearbook staff, but the day students weren’t chosen as officers for clubs or May queens. 

“We made our own good times,” she says. They set up their own club and became lifelong friends. They’d sneak out of class to see movies at the Avon and take the Hope Street trolley to the prom decked out in their gowns. And they’d walk around the main campus and admire all the young Navy men. 

The war affected her time at Pembroke in other ways. Every day, she wrote to her boyfriend, who was serving in the South Pacific. She remembers making dressings for the wounded in Alumnae Hall. Because of the war, Brown accelerated the semesters and she graduated in October 1943 with a degree in sociology, which she chose because she loved people and trying to help them. 

After college, she got a job as a social worker at a public assistance office in Pawtucket. One day in 1946, an intern named John Affleck, who had been placed in her office as part of his master’s program, asked her to go to a basketball game with him. She couldn’t have cared less about sports, but she accepted. They married three years later.

“I don’t believe it,” she says. “I don’t believe it’s me. This is all like a dream.” 

John became director of the Rhode Island Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services. It was a large, troubled agency and protesters would come to their house. Instead of hiding, he’d go out and talk to them. 

Eventually, she earned her master’s degree, and started teaching, first sixth grade and then special edu-cation. She loved it and has stayed in touch with some of her former students. 

One, who had Down syndrome and recently developed Alzheimer’s, became a cashier at the grocery store where Affleck shops and would drop his bagging to give her a hug when he saw her. Another likes to go out to lunch with her. 

She saw their potential and helped some of her Down syndrome students reach a third grade reading level. “I did love them,” she says. “That makes a difference, I think.” 

“Her whole thing in life is to support other people,” says her daughter Joan Affleck Silberman. 

And over the years, she remained active as a Brown alum and was the reunion chair for her class for a while. Part of it was that she stayed in Rhode Island, but she also loved decorating and entertaining. She’s proud she decided to go to Brown, she says. 

On March 3, Affleck’s family came from across the country for her party at the faculty club. Her three siblings were there and so were her four children. Her daughter-in-law Pat Affleck had started planning about six months in advance. 

In the large dining room of the faculty club, guests wearing wool blazers and fancy dresses milled around. Lillian Affleck stood in the center of everything. Her eyes were teary as she gave hugs and chatted with her friends and relatives. 

There was a fancy cake, proclamations from President Christina H. Paxson and Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee, and a performance of Brown’s alma mater and  “Happy Birthday” by the Chattertocks, an all-female Brown a cappella group. 

Affleck gave them a standing ovation and told them she’d been in a music class at Pembroke with Professor Dinnen. “Do you remember him?” she deadpanned. 

A week after the party, sitting in the antique-filled Colonial Revival house in Barrington that she and her husband built nearly 60 years ago, Affleck was exhausted from a week of birthday festivities, but happy. 

“I did not know I was so loved,” she said. “They were told not to bring gifts, but you’d think you were in a funeral parlor here.”

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Related Issue
June–August 2023