World-class hula dancer, mixologist, storyteller, beloved community leader, and philanthropist Ann Lamar Switzer (Dee Dee) Reilly passed away in her home on July 18, 2020 surrounded by family, devoted caregivers, and her giant chocolate poodle, CoCo. She was 87 years old.
Born in Coronado, California to Wendell Gray Switzer and Anna Lamar, Dee Dee was a child of the Navy, moving every few years. In 1946, at the age 14, she found all manner of trouble and adventure living in battle-torn Pearl Harbor, where her father had been assigned to decommission the base. While there, and on a first-name basis with the Ford Island Military Police, Dee Dee honed her skills as a pirate, under-age jeep driver, and top-secret bunker burglar (Steven Spielberg couldn’t make this up!). During these extraordinary years, the barefoot tomboy adopted the hula as her signature dance. When she entered her twenties, under intense parental pressure, Dee Dee, the reluctant debutante, attended a dreaded ball in Virginia Beach; thankfully, she met her future husband of 60 years, Kevin Patrick Reilly, a young lieutenant in the Navy. The admiral’s daughter married an admiral’s aide. In 1953, the young couple moved to Baton Rouge where for the next 55 years Dee Dee guided her husband’s career at Lamar Advertising, making him feel important.
A life-long learner, Dee Dee sampled several colleges and delighted in recounting that, although she never graduated, she miraculously earned an honorary doctorate from LSU in 2002. With grit and determination, Dee Dee, a dyslexic, evolved from reluctant reader to master storyteller. She wrote and self-published two delightful children’s books, Tibby and Teaching Agnes to Dance. She enthralled children, including her grandchildren, with stories she made up; she sparked wonder and fueled self-confidence in the young people she connected with, as well as with vulnerable beings of all ages. An unconventional teacher, Dee Dee taught generations of children how to swim, ride a bike, play tennis, throw a ball, drive a stick- shift convertible, plant a garden, ski across snow and water, sail as well as paddle a boat, fish, construct a drip castle, “cook in the car,” defrost a turkey in the swimming pool, and, yes, even dance the hula. As the self-anointed “Eastern Seaboard Champion” in the trifecta of chess, ping pong, and gin rummy, she regularly defeated her children while letting her grandchildren win, until…they beat her. At which point, she would concede with a noble “good game!” topped off with a Wimbledon-worthy handshake. Ahead of her time, Dee Dee was a zombie before zombies were cool, spending many Halloweens dressed as her ghoulish alter ego, Igor, to the fright and delight of neighborhood kids and adults.
At once, the life of the party, as well as the kind individual who makes the shy feel welcomed, Dee Dee was a loving and loyal friend. She regularly talked to strangers, took in strays, and fed wild animals. She brought home hitchhikers, who “visited” for weeks, and then wrote her letters for years after. She also adopted raccoons - they too “visited” for weeks. In Pensacola, several blue herons adopted her, and one still waits for Dee Dee at the end of her dock. Dee Dee excelled in creating a world of beauty, whimsy, and fun. Whether in her home, out in her backyard, or on the bayou, she invited a wide array of family, friends, and vagabonds into her world. During the 70s and 80s, assorted girlfriends and boyfriends of Dee Dee’s children soon lost interest in her kids, but were forever in love with Dee Dee. Her door was always open.
Dee Dee was touched by tragedy with the loss of her beloved brothers in the prime of their lives, both Naval Aviators. Yet, she believed herself the luckiest person alive, and always worked hard to pay it forward. Her philanthropic interests, too long to list, never sprang from business: it was always personal. She was a passionate advocate for education, health, and equity with a nose for the authentic and impactful. Dee Dee was a founding member and life-long supporter of the Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation, now The Emerge Center. She funded financial aid scholarships at several colleges and universities, and courageously supported access to health care for women, earning Planned Parenthood’s highest honor, the Margaret Sanger Award. Well-read and intellectually curious, Dee Dee served on the advisory board of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ); and with her husband, she founded the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at LSU. She was honored as a Louisiana Legend by Louisiana Public Broadcasting; as a Service Hero by City Year; and crowned Queen of Lollapollooza by the Art’s Council. In our hearts, Dee Dee remains the Maestra of Mouton Street conducting her regal band of misfits, and more recently, fortunate to be surrounded by her sisterhood of saints (her amazing caregivers).
Dee Dee is survived by her four children and their spouses—sons Kevin, Jr. and wife Winifred; Wendell and wife Mary; Sean and wife Jennifer; and daughter Anna and husband Matthew Cullinan; eleven grandchildren and spouses — Ross and wife Drew Reilly, Hayden Reilly; Gray Reilly and wife Molly Canfield, James and Molly Reilly; Anna Maeve, Aidan, and Rowan Reilly; Grace, Walker, and Julia Cullinan; and four great grandchildren — Finn, Reed, and Hart Reilly; and Ernest Reifield. She was predeceased by her parents, Vice Admiral Wendell Switzer and Anna Lamar; her brothers John and Wendell Switzer; and her husband Kevin Reilly Sr.
Dee Dee and her family are grateful for the kind and devoted individuals who made her world familiar, beautiful, and filled with love, especially her BFF, Catherine Boone, as well as Vicky Stansbury, Latoya Perkins, Josette Parker, and Deborah Sowers. We are also grateful for the services of Hospice of Baton Rouge, especially the tender care of Tiffany Lopher.
A private service will be held for the family. Friends can leave a message on the Tributes & Reflections page of this website and/or contributions in celebration of Dee Dee’s life can be directed to Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast--Baton Rouge, The Emerge Center, ICFJ, or an organization of your choice.