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Bayside real estate owner dies of heart failure at 83

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Frances Lee Pilling, a longtime Bayside businesswoman who founded one of the earliest real estate agencies in the town at a time when women were not allowed to take out their own bank loans or get their own credit cards, died Sunday of heart failure. She was 83.

Pilling’s daughter, Betsy, who currently runs Frances Lee Pilling Real Estate on Bell Boulevard, said she could not remember exactly when her mother started the firm more than 50 years ago but she knew Bayside was quieter then.

“It was a different time,” she said. “There were no agencies out here. There were still trolley tracks.”

“She knew everybody,” Betsy said of her mother, who stayed active in the family business until about three years ago. “She knew people, she knew houses and she knew Bayside. It was very social for her.”

A mother of three who spent nearly her entire life in Bayside, Frances Lee Pilling was independent and fearless, her daughter said.

“When she decided to make the effort, she couldn’t get a bank loan because she was a woman,” Betsy Pilling said of her mother’s attempts to start the agency. “She had to borrow $5,000 from her sister. She couldn’t get a credit card.”

Pilling was active in the Women’s Club of Bayside, Sacred Heart Church and the North Shore Multiple Listing Board.

Betsy Pilling said her mother was most proud of her family.

“The whole family is service-oriented,” Betsy said, including Pilling’s husband, Donald, who worked for Grumman Corp., and her sons Donald, a U.S. Navy admiral who recently retired at the vice chief of naval operations; and Brian, a police academy instructor. Betsy joined her mother’s real estate agency in the late 1970s.

“She was really independent and a little ahead of her time,” said Betsy, who said Frances used her own maiden name as a middle name for her sons.

“I’m really proud of her. At this point I really do understand how much she loved the business,” Betsy said. “You make friends and get a real sense of community I don’t think most jobs afford you.”

In addition to her husband, survivors include a sister, Virginia Fessler of Bethel, Conn.; three children, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

A wake was held for Pilling at Francis X. Hatton Funeral Home in Bayside this week and a funeral was planned at Sacred Heart Church.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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