Remembering Lili

Liliane Bonora died quietly of heart failure on October 20.

That’s what the obituary said, anyway.  Some people might have read the name, not recognized it, and moved on.

But if the story said simply “Lili died,” nearly everyone in town would have noticed.

Lili, of course, owned Lili’s Fine Food and Catering, the railroad station coffee shop that for 28 years served coffee, croissants, conversation — and much, much more.

Her obituary noted that she was born in Monte Carlo, moved to Canada in the 1960s and the US in the early ’70s, then became an American citizen just in time to cast her first vote for Bill Clinton.

She was “an accomplished cloisonné artist and designer.”  She was a concert pianist, and also played violin, flute and guitar.  For a while, she gave piano lessons.

Lili worked at Soup’s On before opening her railroad station spot.  There, she met countless customers who were enchanted by her “generosity of spirit, and her gifts as a chef.”

The obituary continued:

Her devotion to beauty and perfection translated into everything she did.  Her culinary and floral creations were breathtaking.  She is held lovingly in the hearts of all the lives she touched.

Among those lives was Ellie Solovay’s.

“I was probably one of Lili’s first customers,” the longtime Westporter recalls.

For many years she cooked Friday night dinner for me and my family.  In the past few years my husband and I would walk over the railroad bridge to her cafe on Saturday mornings.  She made us the best omelets this side of the Atlantic.

When Ann Sheffer — who lives on Stony Point, just across the parking lot from the train station — heard Lili had died, she remembered so many parties Lili had catered.

Ann contacted friends, and learned that a group of parishioners at St. Luke Church had taken care of Lili.

They and others started planning a tribute.  A memorial service is set for 10 a.m. this Saturday (November 5), at St. Luke’s.

A reception will follow.  At Lili’s Place, of course.

(Lili’s obituary noted that contributions in her honor can be made to the Connecticut Food Bank and Homes With Hope.  The story concluded:  “An act of kindness each day dedicated to Lili would please her.)

5 responses to “Remembering Lili

  1. Lili will be truly missed! Part of my bicycle route with the kids would always include a “fly by” of Lili’s where the kids would always laugh and coddle Lili’s dog. Meanwhile I would get a nice 5 minute conversation with Lili. The bike route will still be taken, but one of the highlights will be gone.

  2. katherine hooper

    Lili was a dear friend of my husband’s. they had coffee together every morning. when my husband cooked something special at home, he would run a sample over to lili for her opinion and she was always honest (brutally). when lili needed a ride to pick up some fancy ingredient she would call my husband and they would go together. when lili got sick and my husband went to visit her in the hospital she wouldn’t see him. “a french lady doesn’t accept visitors when she is not at her best”. my husband misses his french lady and i’m sure all of westport does too.

  3. I used to see her on my way across the train bridge, at her store, or on Ferry Lane where she once lived. I always had nice conversations with her and she told me my house was an “artists” house. She was right, it had been built by an artist. I just loved that she knew just by looking at it.

  4. Longtime Westporter

    Wish someone had a photo of Lili. It would be a lovely tribute to see an image of this “French lady” in the days when she was accepting visitors at her wonderful shop. Any ideas?

  5. I was lucky – Lili took care of me and my brother when we were children. This was before Soup’s On, before starting her catering business. I remember her teaching me so many things (songs in French, good manners, how to make crepes) and playing with us with an unrestrained joy rare for an adult.

    Later, in college, I worked for Lili’s catering business in the summers. Her life was, my family always said, a true expression of the American dream. Lili came here with nothing and made an amazing life for herself. She was resilient, self-sufficient, and strong. Lili gave generously to everyone. I remember her lending money, giving food, and helping people get work. On one occasion, she read of a terrible fatal accident in Westport and called the family to tell them that she would be sending food for the wake. No charge. No discussion.

    Lili was a true character. I’ve never met anyone else like her and I doubt I ever will.