By Gall Sigler
Lilian Paikin, a Philadelphia native and longtime bookkeeper at Frank Paikin Auto, died on July 25. She was 106.
Few people can claim to witness as many historical milestones as did Paikin. Born in 1916, she lived to see the world wars, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, the Cold War and the moon landing — as well as COVID-19.
In 1978, Paikin began working at her son’s car dealership in Glenside as a bookkeeper. She stayed on for more than four decades, until she was 105.
“She was always a bookkeeper, always very good with numbers,” said her niece, Ellen Pluto.
The business remains familial to this day. When Paikin’s son, Franklin Paikin, died in 2003, his son, Scott Paikin, succeeded him as the head of the business. His wife, Lori Paikin, is the marketing manager.
Paikin was meticulous at her job. She kept records of every car sold.
“She’s from an age where people really took pride in their work,” Scott Paikin said in a 2020 interview with the Jewish Exponent. “Nobody else has that ethic like she does anymore. She won’t go out to dinner with her girlfriend if she knows she has paperwork to do.”
Paikin’s work ethic was evident in her memories of youth.
“I started work when I was 15 and have really been working ever since. I worked at Woolworth’s five-and-dime. I was selling ice cream sandwiches on a waffle,” she recalled in that Exponent story.
Before joining her son’s dealership, Paikin worked as a bookkeeper for Fleet Leasing in North Philadelphia.
Paikin was called “Mama Lily” by family members, and her grandchildren felt intimately connected to her.
“She was practically a mother to me as I was growing up,” Scott Paikin said in 2020.
Lori Paikin, though not connected to Lilian Paikin by blood, viewed her as a grandmother, too.
“All of my natural grandparents passed by the time I was 26. She’s been my only grandmother for more than half of my life now,” she in an Instagram post following Paikin’s passing.
Paikin lived on Rorer Street for 70 years before moving to Jenkintown 16 years ago at the encouragement of granddaughter Jill Stein.
“It gave her a new lease on life,” Pluto said.
Paikin flourished in the Jenkintown apartment house, making new friends, spending time with family and participating in bingo, Scrabble and casino nights.
Family remained at the center of Paikin’s life.
“Lily babysat for all of the great-grandchildren at different stages,” Stein said.
Part of Paikin’s devotion to family was a commitment to keeping its history alive. Paikin documented her family’s history and wrote six stories covering events since 1898 when her mother arrived in the United States.
Paikin wrote that “she was the only child that gave Jennie (her mother) a problem, she refused to eat, in those days that was very exasperating to the parents as they were sure she would die of malnutrition.”
Paikin’s family was comprised of 10 brothers and sisters, which “was difficult during the many lean years but they managed, Frank supplied the finances and Jennie took good care of the home like a pro,” she wrote.
In writing her stories, Paikin made sure the family’s history was accurate and accessible to future generations. She added corrections and translations from Yiddish to English of words “the young children may not be familiar with.”
“She wanted her grandchildren to see what good stock their family came from, how strong their family was,” Pluto said.
Paikin’s understanding of Judaism was tied to family, as well. She kept kosher but did not frequent a synagogue consistently.
“She would love to celebrate the holidays with her close family,” Pluto and Stein said.
During the pandemic, Paikin worked remotely from home, and her family would make sure to bring groceries to her.
Despite the myriad challenges posed by COVID-19, Paikin took them in stride.
“I’m not bored,” she told Exponent in 2020. “I just go along with whatever occurs, and I don’t worry. I don’t worry about anything because what you worry about may never occur, so what’s the use in worrying about it?”
Besides her grandchildren, Lilian Paikin is survived by five great-grandchildren. JE
Gall Sigler is an intern for the Jewish Exponent.