Floy Willsey Behlmer

EAST BERNE — The melodious music and humorous life of Floy Willsey Behlmer began on a full family farm when she was a girl. Music, laughter, and hard work built strong bonds for her as a wife, sister, and secretary.

Mrs. Behlmer died in Chevy Chase, Md., on Wednesday, June 26, 2013.  She was 92.

On her 90th birthday, Mrs. Behlmer visited the dairy farm where she grew up in East Berne. Her sister Rose Mary Flint, said Mrs. Behlmer was excited to stay in the same bedroom they slept in as children.

Their brother, Michael, now lives on the farm.

“All the members of his family entertained us and we had a big picnic on the lawn where we used to play ‘Red Light’ as kids,” Ms. Flint said, referring to the children’s game.

The eldest daughter of the late Frank and Millie (née Ball) Willsey, Mrs. Behlmer was born on Aug. 25, 1920.

“In a family of eight children, and a grandmother who lived with us, and a hired man, there were often 12 people around the table at meals,” Ms. Flint said. Her sister enjoyed returning to the farm only a few years ago, and wanted to visit again, she said, because it is the source of her values.

“She loved walking in the woods with my brother, because that’s what we’d do to fetch the cows,” said Ms. Flint.

Their father, Frank Willsey, wasn’t a farmer by trade, but worked for General Electric, as did Mrs. Behlmer, as a secretary, and her future husband.

Ms. Flint described her sister as always assuming the role of big sister, even in recent years at her assisted living facility.

“She introduced me to everyone there: ‘She’s my baby sister. I used to change her diapers,’” Mrs. Flint recalled.

 “Floy grew up on a farm in East Berne, in a large family where music, laughter, and hard work were heavily emphasized,” her family wrote in a tribute. Mrs. Flint said the kitchen water was fed through a hand pump until electricity came in 1934.

Their mother sang and played piano, supporting a pervasive atmosphere of music in the Willsey home.

“Especially on Sunday, we would gather in the parlor and we would sing songs. My father would come in and he would always ask for the ‘Old Rugged Cross,’” said Ms. Flint. She sang a folk song favored by the family, “When you and I were young, Maggie.” “I wandered today to the hill, Maggie.’”

Mrs. Behlmer and her sister, Doris, focused on the American Songbook, singing in a duo for children’s programs on local radio stations, WOKO and WGY.  They were around the ages of 10 and 12.

“Later, she organized and directed a choir at St. John’s Lutheran Church, in East Berne, where she also played the organ. In addition, she played piano in a small group of talented local musicians, mostly farmers, who became known as the Fox Creek Fiddlers, and were especially popular at square dances in the Hilltowns,” her family wrote.

After attending secretarial school, Mrs. Behlmer worked at General Electric in Schenectady, where she met Fred Goepel. They divorced after 17 years of marriage and she moved to Maryland, near Ms. Flint in 1960.

Mrs. Behlmer took various jobs as a secretary in Maryland, working briefly for Freda Utley, author of Odyssey of a Liberal; memoirs. Returning to work for G.E., in Washington D.C., she was secretary for engineer George Behlmer, whom she married.

“They were married in 1966, and enjoyed a very happy 31 years together, traveling and playing golf and bridge at Manor Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, where she will be missed by many friends,” her family wrote.

After her marriage, Mrs. Behlmer worked as an administrative assistant to Senator Harrison Williams of New Jersey, “where she learned more than she wanted to know about Washington politics,” her family wrote.

Of her sister’s various jobs as a secretary, Mrs. Flint said, “I think she enjoyed them all. She enjoyed meeting people, and she enjoyed being involved in what was going on in the world.”

The Behlmers traveled to Alaska, the Caribbean, and Scotland, sometimes in search of golf courses.

When Mrs. Behlmer introduced herself, people often commented on her first name, which came from an aunt.

“They had a favorite that they sang, even in later years, ‘Whispering Hope,’” said Ms. Flint of her sisters’ duo. “The three of us recorded it in one of the family reunions around the year 2000, and she still sang beautifully. She carried that high soprano very nicely.”

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Floy Willsey Behlmer is survived by her stepsons, Charles Behlmer of California and George E. Behlmer of Seattle, Wash.; her three brothers, Mike Willsey of East Berne, Ted Willsey of Berne, Charles Willsey of Tucson, Ariz.; her sister, Rose Mary W. Flint of Chevy Chase, Md.; and several nieces and nephews across the country, “for many of whom she was an attentive and generous ‘second mother,’” wrote her family.

 Her husband, George E. Behlmer, died before her, as did her two brothers, Robert and Wilford Willsey, and her sister, Doris O’Brien. 

At her request, there will be no service, and burial will be private.  Donations in her memory may be sent to the Northeastern New York Alzheimer’s Association, 4 Pine West Plaza, Suite 405, Albany, N.Y. 12205.

                                                                                                                        — Marcello Iaia

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