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Wilmette woman held a party so pallbearers could get to know each other

Obit photo of Bitsy Fell Winograd from November, 2008. Provided photo

Bitsy Fell Winograd wanted 10 of her best girlfriends to be her pallbearers.

But, as she planned her funeral, she realized that some of them didn’t know each other well, because she knew them from different parts of her life.

So Mrs. Winograd – always a consummate organizer and hostess who made sure that introductions were always made and everyone felt at ease – threw one last party two weeks before she died. She invited the people who would be her pallbearers to her Wilmette home so they could get to know each other. Mrs. Winograd, who waged a four-year battle with ovarian cancer, emerged from her sunny, yellow bedroom to greet her guests.

“This was the last time she was able to make it down the stairs,” said her husband, Bruce Winograd.

She wore scarlet lipstick, her trademark red manicured nails and a cap from her hat collection to cover the hair that had thinned from her treatments. She looked like a queen, said her friend, Jan Hershman Cook.

The guests had tea and cake, and they laughed with the woman who inspired a song – written by former DDB Needham advertising executive Susan Gillette – that goes: “There’s nothing ‘Bitsy’ about her.”

Mrs. Winograd – whose force of will helped her hang on to attend last fall’s 50th reunion of the New Trier class of 1961, as well as the November wedding of her youngest daughter – died Jan. 1 at her home. She was 68.

Bitsy Winograd, whose birth name was Beatrice, grew up “an itsy bitsy baby” in Winnetka. Her grandfather founded Fell’s men’s clothing stores in Winnetka and Highland Park. Movie star Rock Hudson worked at Fell’s as a young man, and many North Shore boys made pilgrimages to Fell’s for their bar mitzvah suits. Their loyalty often continued into adulthood, when they were buying suits for roles as civic leaders and businessmen. Mrs. Winograd was in charge of tuxedo rentals at Fell’s.

Her future husband remembers their first date – a tennis date “on April 1, 1979.” Tennis extended into an impromptu brunch, and the conversation just kept going. They married and added their two daughters to her two girls from a previous marriage.

“The girls got along great,” her husband said.

Kristin Petursdottir, who, as an exchange student from Iceland, lived with the Winograds 23 years ago, said she always called Mrs. Winograd “Mom.”

“They still feel like family, and Mom always felt like a mother to me,” Petursdottir said – “strong, warm, fun, generous, a great mother and a great role model. I hope that I can be a little bit like the mother she was to my newborn baby boy.”

The Winograds played tennis, golf and bridge and enjoyed the ballet and theater, especially Shakespeare plays. “We did everything together,” he said.

Mrs. Winograd helped organize reunions for the 25th, 40th and 50th anniversary of her 1961 class at New Trier and helped plan the school’s centennial celebration.

“She was like the gung-ho New Trier alum,” said Cook.

“This is a woman who knew everyone in our class, and there were about 987 of us,” said her friend and fellow alum, Steve Strauss.

At the 50th reunion last fall, “We didn’t know if she would make it or not,” said her friend, Nancy Pollack. “We were all seated, waiting for everyone to walk in, and in comes Bitsy” in a wheelchair.

She got a standing ovation.

As her illness progressed, her world began to compress until she spent her time largely in her room. On her bed was a quilt made with the help of her grandchildren; later, it would cover her casket. The doors of her closet were plastered with cards from well-wishers from around the world.

Years before, she and her husband opened their home to seven foreign exchange students from Argentina, Austria, Germany, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The friendships lasted her lifetime. She invited the former students to Chicago for 60th birthday celebrations for herself and her husband.

All seven came. She found them places to stay and organized architectural tours of Chicago and a trip to one of her favorite spots – Highland Park’s Ravinia Festival.

She was active with the Temple Jeremiah Sisterhood and the National Council of Jewish Women and could often be found volunteering at the Encore & More resale shop in Wilmette.

Mrs. Winograd is also survived by her daughters Audrey Appelsies; Ellen Walthour; Jill Reister and Joanne Brockington; brothers Joseph and Frank; and five grandchildren.