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Robert J. Costello, at 77, Winchester funeral director

By Jaime Lutz
Globe Correspondent / October 1, 2011

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Robert J. Costello, an owner and director of the Costello Funeral Home in Winchester for 50 years, died of Alzheimer’s disease Sept. 4 at his home in Tuftonboro, N.H. He was 77.

Described by his wife, Lillian, as a man “full of Irish wit’’ and with “beautiful blue eyes,’’ Mr. Costello was born and raised in Quincy. He graduated from Quincy High School in 1953 and served for two years in the US Army, stationed in Germany.

He had played football in high school, but more importantly, he met Lillian Kenney, the woman to whom he would be married for 53 years. They were wed in 1958.

While they were dating, he attended Boston University and graduated in 1955 with an associate’s degree. In 1957, he went to the New England Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences in Boston, where he studied the funeral business.

Mr. Costello began working in funeral homes in and around Quincy and Boston. In 1961, he moved his family to Winchester, where he purchased Moffett Funeral Home and changed its name to the Costello Funeral Home.

For a half century, he owned and operated the funeral home, working in later years alongside his son Joseph and daughter-in-law Lauren, both of Winchester. His family described him as the epitome of class.

“His mantra back in the day was ‘a dignified service within the means for all,’ ’’ said Joseph, who added that the phrase was inscribed on matchbooks at the funeral home. “That pretty much summed him up.’’

“He was so dapper,’’ Lauren said. “He was always dressed just so. He always had a shirt and tie on.’’

His wife was a constant presence during the years he ran the business. In an e-mail, Lauren called her in-laws’ relationship an “old-fashioned love story.’’

Early in their marriage, Lillian Costello made sure the family’s five children did not disturb people during visiting hours at the funeral home. Later in life, she looked after her husband.

“She took care of him with all of his medical needs, a broken neck when he was pushed into a swimming pool, Hodgkin’s disease, cancer, and ultimately Alzheimer’s disease,’’ Lauren said. “Through it all, they always managed to have steak and beans on Saturday.’’

An active community member, Mr. Costello served as the president of Winchester’s Rotary Club and was a member of the town’s Knights of Columbus. At St. Mary’s Church, he was a member of the parish council, an usher, and a member of the Mr. and Mrs. Club, a social organization for married couples.

When not spending time with his family, Mr. Costello loved to golf and carded a hole-in-one at the Ridgewood Country Club in Moultonborough, N.H.

He also loved to maintain his yard, both at his Winchester home and later in Tuftonboro, where he lived full time in later years. He also loved to spend time outdoors fishing, hiking, ice-fishing, and cross-country skiing.

Even though Mr. Costello retired in 2002, his daughter-in-law said, he was always ready to lend a hand at the funeral home and offer advice.

Besides his wife and son, Mr. Costello leaves two other sons, Peter of Arlington and Robert Jr. of Malden; two daughters, Elizabeth O’Neil of Merrimac and Nancy McQuillin of North Reading; a sister, Betty Nestor of Weymouth; and nine grandchildren.

A service was held at the Costello Funeral Home.

Throughout his life, his family said, he handled death gracefully.

“It’s about the living, Lauren said. “It’s about taking care of them, too. He was so good at both.’’

Jaime Lutz can be reached at