Karkilie (Lee) Withington Atkins, teacher, matriarch, great-grandmother

Karkilie “Lee” Withington Atkins left her earthly role as the matriarch of a large family the moment the sun rose on July 21, 2022. Born in Brookline, Massachusetts on October 21, 1923, the middle of 9 children in Lothrop and Katharyn (Whipple) Withington, she was only three months away from her 99th birthday. She is survived by three of her siblings, Anne (Benjamin) Brewster, Paul Withington and Nathan Withington, all of Plymouth, MA.

Lee had a lively childhood split between Brookline and Plymouth, and having two much younger siblings developed a lifelong interest in early childhood education.

She was a student/teacher at Ruggles Street School (The Nursery Training School of Boston), one of the nation’s first preschools and a pioneer in early childhood education. She then taught at Chestnut Hill School.

A war bride, she married Henry Hornblower Atkins on June 13, 1944, shortly before Henry went overseas to serve in World War II. They had a remarkable partnership for 57 years until he predeceased her in 2001. Their first child, Dr. Henry “Toby” (Alice Evans) Atkins II was born while Henry was overseas. After the war, Henry completed his studies at Yale and they moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where Henry became chief of staff to the president of the Center for Industrial Studies, a business school training managers for post-war reconstruction. -war. Here their next two children, Chester Atkins (Jessica Stern) and Timothy (Nancy Whitestone) Atkins, were born. Lee navigated as a young mother while learning a new language in a new country.

In 1951, they moved to Montreal, Canada, where they once again embraced life in a new country. Henry began a career with Alcan/Canada; Lee developed a keen interest in Canadian art, promoting and collecting early works by Canadian native artists and the school of post-war Quebec artists and achieving a curling championship.

Their next three children were born in Montreal: Daniel Atkins (Nancy Clum), Karkilie “Lilie” Atkins (ex. Taissir Alani) and Rachel Atkins, of Richmond Vt. (deceased by Jesus Garcia Hernandez “Tagor”).

In 1958, at Lee’s urging, Henry changed careers, returning to Massachusetts, where Henry earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard and began working in Newton’s public school system. In 1959, their youngest child, Rebecca “Becky” (David) Shepherd was born. In addition to his growing family, Lee oversaw a burgeoning menagerie of animals and childhood friends; as one friend summed it up, “she was always welcoming, kind, incredibly generous and caring to all of us her children brought home, and so many of us loved and admired her”. During this time, Lee served on the board of boys’ and girls’ camps serving underprivileged youth.

In 1970, the family moved to Plymouth, MA, where Lee established four small businesses: Dusty Miller and Snow Goose gift shops, the Clock Shop and Jenny Grist Mill. In 1989, Lee and Henry retired to Brunswick, Maine where they became involved in establishing Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe, the vision of their daughter Becky.

Lee had a broad definition of family and a compassionate and generous spirit that won the affection of many. She instilled in her children a call to contribute to the world in a way that helped make it a better place for all, having a ripple effect as captured by a family friend, “your parents were all two of the incredible human beings who left an impact on this earth and on many of us who still walk in it” Her extraordinary attitude and vibrant smile while living her final chapter during the pandemic made her a sensation on the social media who has been a source of inspiration and comfort to many.Her family is deeply grateful for the compassionate and loving care she received at Horizons Living and Rehab Center.

She leaves behind her seven children, their spouses, ex-spouses (Cory Hobbs [Chester] Atkins, Heidi Rankin [Daniel], 20 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren. In the words of one grandchild, “She was so many wonderful things to so many different people and left a gaping hole in my soul. Most importantly, she left me with a deep love for our huge, raucous family that she and my grandfather spent their lives weaving together. And in this she will live forever.

There will be a Celebration of Life gathering at the Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe in Brunswick, Maine on September 11, 2022 at 11:00 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust or the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust are welcome.


Family Information

She is survived by three of her siblings, Anne (Benjamin) Brewster, Paul Withington and Nathan Withington, all of Plymouth, MA. She leaves behind her seven children, their spouses, ex-spouses (Cory Hobbs [Chester] Atkins, Heidi Rankin [Daniel]20 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren.

Share this obituary:

All obituaries are independently verified by VTDigger. To submit an obituary, click here.

Recent obituaries