Cheryl Blackman, the ever-smiling, pint-sized queen of the Boardwalk, passed away in the early morning hours of Dec. 7 after a long fight with cancer.
Her sister, Sharon Sherwood, said she passed away peacefully in her sleep. Blackman, 53, had been in hospice care since July.
“She had a good day on Monday, and then it was time,” Sherwood said.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, Blackman underwent years of chemo, but this summer, the cancer spread to her abdomen; doctors said there was no more they could do. The town she loved held a parade in her honor July 13, and Sherwood said well-wishers would stop by Blackman’s house every day as cards, flowers and letters poured in.
Sherwood’s husband, Van, said, “The community was her life. The daily interactions were her life. Cheryl had this bond. This intimate, close connection. She had a very special gift in connecting with people.”
"The Rehoboth Christmas tree is missing its brightest light," said Brud Lee of Rehoboth Beach, who said he’s known Cheryl all his life. "She's been a more consistent and important part of Rehoboth than pretty much anyone I can think of.
“Businesses and visitors have been the lifeblood of our city, but Cheryl was always the heart.”
Sharon Sherwood said, “Everything was about looking forward to the next thing. I think my sister, Valery, said it well in that the community and the support really did keep her going.” Pointing to a full basket of cards, she said, “I had to get a bigger basket.”
Typical of her life, Blackman’s final two public appearances were fundraisers on behalf of two organizations she loved dearly: a casino night for KINfolk, the children’s charity on whose behalf Blackman sold untold raffle tickets, and at Grotto Pizza’s Christmas tree charity event, in which a tree, decorated in Blackman’s trademark red, white and blue with her pictures, helped raise money for Delaware Hospice.
Blackman was a popular fixture at Grotto on Rehoboth Avenue, where on St. Patrick’s Day and Fourth of July, she would dress in colorful costumes to celebrate. Her costumes were a nod to Blackman's past work in show business, where she was an actress and stunt double: the 4-foot-6 Blackman used her roller-skating talents to double for Miss Piggy in the 1984 film "The Muppets Take Manhattan."
Grotto founder Dominick Pulieri said, “"Today is a truly sad day for the Grotto family and Rehoboth community. We will mourn Cheryl's passing, but take comfort in knowing she is in a better place now and is no longer suffering. While we will miss her, her spirit of love and kindness will live on in all who knew her. She was a joy to be around. Her positive attitude was contagious, just like her smile. I know that she would want today to be a day that celebrates her life."
Sherwood said the family is planning to hold a celebration of Blackman’s life, but details are not yet available.
Sherwood said, “As a sister, you’re proud to know that someone has touched so many people. She’s touched them in so many different ways too. Sometimes it’s just a smile, it’s just a hug, it’s just a person that has seen her year after year walking the street, and then it’s those people that have really gotten to know her.”
Choking up, Sherwood said, “She really listened to people. And worried about people too. She held people’s confidence and she cared about them.”