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They Took My Aunt, Then Spent Her Money

By Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy


“I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. Just open up the door and I’ll get it myself.” That line from the James Brown R&B classic exemplified Aunt Lillie’s philosophy. She loved singing and was quick to share advice on self-reliance: “If I was able to do it, you should be able to do it.”


Growing up in North Carolina, Lillie saved for college by working as a babysitter, at a hotel and by singing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She achieved the American dream: marrying her college sweetheart, earning a doctorate and becoming supervisor of instruction for public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland — one of the wealthiest counties in America. In 2011, at 83, Lillie was independently living in Palm Coast, Florida — cooking, shopping and driving her sports Mercedes, a gift from her late husband. We flew in from New York to celebrate Christmas — Mom, me, and my brother, sister and nephew.

A distant family ‘friend’ from bygone years invited Lillie to visit him in Winter Garden. We found out later that he had taken her phone and changed her mailing address and medication. He knew she had no family in Florida and her only son was ill. After Lillie’s son died, the ‘friend’ filed for guardianship without us knowing.


Weeks later, a chain of events began that would change our lives forever. A distant family “friend” from bygone years invited Lillie to visit him in Winter Garden. We found out later that he had taken her phone and changed her mailing address and medication. He knew she had no family in Florida and her only son was ill. After Lillie’s son died, the “friend” filed for guardianship without us knowing.

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