Rachel Filinson

August 25th 1956 - July 7th 2020

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Rachel Filinson's Obituary

Rachel Filinson was born Debra Iris Filinson in Chicago, IL. Whether it be a sign of her independence or penchant for apposite nicknames, she went on to become Rachel. She gave nicknames to her whole family, including Papa T-Q Bear (for her husband Darek, after the patriarch of the Bearentstein bears) and Miss M & Miss V (for her daughters Melanie and Valerie).


Those who knew Rachel admired her intelligence and dedication to work. She was the Salutatorian of the Niles East Class of 1974 and went on to get a PhD in Medical Sociology from University of Aberdeen. As a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Gerontology Program at Rhode Island College, where she worked for 33 years, she had a distinguished scholarly career, publishing over 75 articles with three coming out as recently as 2019 and with an outstanding record of grant support. She has held several research fellowships, taught curriculum at all levels, and was a mentor to generations of faculty and students. She spent eight years as Chair of the Sociology Department and spearheaded the process of Rhode Island College’s recognition as an Age-Friendly campus. In short, she was incredible.


Rachel was the kind of person who didn’t care for frivolity, but instead preferred things of deep, profound meaning. She held these connections dear to her, which was apparent in her efforts to always ensure that a hat was sewn or booties were knitted for every kin that came into the clan. Her clan came from afar, and many remained afar, but for Rachel that never came close to weakening the roots that connected them. Close friends from college, a friend from high school, work acquaintances, and everyone in between -- someone who got into Rachel’s heart never left. Like Baxter the dog, who despite his many anxieties and offenses, remained her “boyfriend” for nearly 14 years.


She loved flamingos. If you search flamingos online, Google will tell you that “If this bird appears in your life, it means that it is time for fun.” And that’s perfect for Rachel. She never let anything get her down, or get to her, which explains her patience and kindness at all times. All she ever wanted was for everything to be fine, and for everyone to enjoy some chocolate. 


There were so many amazing things about Rachel. As a mother, she somehow was the picture of perfection while still working full time. Every night there was a fresh baked cake or pie on the counter and an intricate meal on the table. A knitting project in her bag, and a sewing project in the basement. A free festival or craft fair she found, or new town she wanted to explore -- undoubtedly just in a relentless search to find more chocolate.


She loved Scotland. She loved Celtic music. She loved Prairie Home Companion. She loved Jo-Ann Fabrics. She loved reading. She loved baking. She loved cooking. She loved knitting. She loved refurbishing old things and making them new. She loved to garden, and the garden she created. She loved themes. She loved to travel. She loved her family. She loved life.


Rachel is survived by her doting husband, Darek Niklas; two devoted daughters, Melanie and Valerie; and her brother, Roy.


Guest Book

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The Rachel Filinson Award in Sociology.

Contributions are being accepted at

WGBH Public Radio: 

Donate to Rachel's favorite radio stations to support the programs she loved at


Photo Gallery

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