Inspiration of Family Circus mother dies at age 82

Thelma Keane, the inspiration for the Mommy character in the long-running Family Circus comic created by her husband, Bil Keane, has died.

PHOENIX — Thelma Keane, the inspiration for the Mommy character in the long-running Family Circus comic created by her husband, Bil Keane, has died. She was 82.

She died Friday of Alzheimer’s disease.

Family Circus, which Keane began drawing in 1960, depicts the good-humoured life of two parents and their four children. It is now featured in about 1,500 newspapers.

“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.”

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

“I had this desk alongside the most beautiful Australian 18-year-old girl with long brown hair,” Bil Keane said. “And I got up enough nerve to ask her for a date.”

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

Not only was Thelma Keane the inspiration for the always-loving and ever-patient comic character also named Thel, but she worked full-time as her husband’s business and financial manager. Her family says she was the reason Bil Keane became one of the first syndicated newspaper cartoonists to win back all rights to his comic.


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