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Lillian Deakins, 97: Lived 90-plus years in Ansley Park

Once committed to a friendship, a community or a cause, Lillian Deakins was all in.

The first cousin of author Margaret Mitchell, Deakins had friendships that lasted a lifetime, called Ansley Park home for 90-plus years and was a dedicated volunteer in the “genteel era” of the city she loved.

Lillian Roberts Deakins, a fifth-generation Atlantan who lived nearly all her 97 years in intown’s affluent Ansley Park, died Jan. 9.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 20 at H.M. Patterson & Sons, Spring Hill. The family will receive guests at 1 p.m., and a reception will follow the service.

Born in Atlanta on Oct. 5, 1921, Deakins was the daughter of John Hughes Roberts and Lillian Mitchell Roberts and the first cousin of Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone with the Wind.”

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She attended Spring Street School, Washington Seminary, Sweet Briar College and Agnes Scott College.

Deakins went to work at Eastern Airlines after graduating from Agnes Scott in 1943 with degrees in economics and sociology.

At Eastern, she worked briefly as a flight instructor but was reassigned after sending a trainee in a flight simulator into a tailspin. She also had the unenviable duty of notifying civilians they were being bumped from their flights to make room for World War II servicemen, her daughters said.

During World War II, Deakins was asked to attend parties – on par with the morale-boosting canteens made famous by Hollywood – where servicemen had opportunities for entertainment and fellowship.

At one of those belle-of-the-ball parties, she met soldier David Miller Deakins and a courtship began. The two married in 1945 and were together until his death in 1989.

Daughter Lillian Clarke said her mother loved sharing stories about the war at the dinner table. She’d always end the discussion, saying: “There will never be another fun war like that.” David Deakins would cringe and caution his wife against saying that to other people, who didn’t see the war as “so great and fun.”

“She was a character,” Clarke said.

Lillian Deakins had a great sense of humor and had an abundance of friends.

“The woman loved to laugh, and she could find some humor in just about any situation no matter how terrible or dire,” daughter Dorothy Chandler said. “It was not in a Pollyanna way, but a very real way.”

Deakins was a lifelong member of Atlanta First United Methodist church and active in volunteer efforts across the community.

She was a member of the board of the Junior League of Atlanta, president of the Salvation Army Ladies Auxiliary and trustee of both the Historic Oakland Foundation and the Margaret Mitchell House. She also was a member of the Piedmont Driving Club and the Ansley Golf Club.

Penciled into her calendar every month strictly for fun was her “Friday Ladies.”

For 72 years, she and a group of friends met one Friday a month for lunch. The group’s membership declined with the years, but Deakins still attended as long as she was able.

“Her legacy, much more than anything else, is her love for people and her interest in all different types of people,” daughter Lillian said.

When a friend was ill or had lost a loved one, Deakins was the first at the friend’s door with food or words of comfort.

“She was the best friend anybody could have,” daughter Lillian said. “I told her not long ago: ‘You taught us how to be such a good friend.’ ”

Mary Frances Woodside and Deakins met in seventh grade, went through high school together, and remained close friends.

“The best thing about her was her sincerity,” Woodside said. “She is a wonderful friend and a lot of fun.”

Deakins and husband David lived for about a year in Englewood, Calif., where she was in the Junior League with actress Shirley Temple, her family said.

In 1959, the couple moved into a two-story home in the Prado in Ansley Park that had an elevator, a must-have for David Deakins.

Lillian Deakins, who survived two other husbands, lived there until her death.

Recently, Deakins told daughter Lillian: “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could die in my sleep?”

And that’s what happened.

Deakins is survived by her daughters, Lillian Deakins Clarke and Dorothy Deakins Chandler; son-in-law Franklin Chandler; and several grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: the Historic Oakland Foundation, 248 Oakland Avenue SE, Atlanta, GA 30312; CASA Glynn, PO Box 145, Brunswick, GA 31521; or Midtown Assistance Center, 30 Porter Place, Atlanta, GA 30308.

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