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Independent Kilgore worked hard to raise her children by herself

May 23, 2017 GMT

With two young daughters to raise after splitting with her husband in the early 1950s, Helen Christine “Chris” Kilgore relied on the education she received at what was then the San Antonio Vocational and Technical School to get a job.

Working for USAA early on, Kilgore later kept books for John McGee Advertising Associates and Gulf Mart Discount Department Store, and then did office work in the now-defunct National Bank of Fort Sam Houston.

She also often took on second jobs cleaning apartments and delivering the Catholic weekly the Alamo Messenger.

“Once she graduated from high school and had us, she was bound and determined she was going to be independent,” her daughter Katherine Kilgore Ratcliff said. “Knowing how hard it was as she was growing up, she didn’t want that for her girls.”

Kilgore died May 15 at 84.

Given up by her birth parents as a 2-year-old, Kilgore was raised by adoptive parents in a home near Fort Sam Houston.

She was 5 when her father died of tuberculosis, leaving her mother, who never remarried, to raise Kilgore on her own.

Her mother, who had not previously worked outside the home and who didn’t drive, was able to get a part-time job at a flower shop near their home, but it was a hard childhood.

Kilgore used the self-reliance she learned growing up for the rest of her life.

“She could fix anything … her car or plumbing,” Ratcliff said. “She didn’t have a lot of money so it was out of necessity.”

Kilgore began working as a saleswoman with the graphic arts supplier Texas Type in her 50s, a job that turned out to be a natural fit.

“She could talk to anybody, and they loved her,” Ratcliff said. “She had a region; she kept going and did better for herself, made more money than she had in 20 years. It gave her a sense of worth.”

Although she had little time to spend with her children, Kilgore took them to the lake and to Rockport as often as possible.

“We lived at Lake Dunlap every weekend,” Ratcliff said. “She also loved the coast; she was a fisherman through and through.”

Living close to her oldest daughter in Wisconsin for many years, Kilgore returned to Texas after her daughter died in 2002.

“All of our family and friends embraced her,” Ratcliff said. “She was the kind of person everybody loved.”