June 5, 2014 6:12 AM EDT

Ann B. Davis is best known for playing Alice, the beloved live-in housekeeper for the blended family of the hit TV show The Brady Bunch. Housekeeper by trade, Alice was also a problem solver, peacemaker, chef, girlfriend to Sam the butcher, best friend and (somewhat) reliable keeper of family secrets.

I know less about the real life of Ann, who died June 1 at 88. But I’m truly grateful for her portrayal of Alice, because it was real. She brought the experience and role of the domestic worker alive for a generation of American TV audiences. Alice was a fully developed and fantastically funny character, a testament to Ann’s talent and investment in playing this particular role with humanity and integrity. She made us wonder, Did Alice have her own family? What did she do before working for the Bradys? We wanted more.

The Brady Bunch foreshadowed the changing shape of American families. It helped us understand that nontraditional homes could be full of fun and caring and, most important, fully whole.

Blue uniform aside, Alice’s role in particular foreshadowed the important part that domestic workers would come to play in our modern families. Today there are more women in the workplace than ever, more single-parent heads of households and more families with two income earners. With people living longer and the baby-boom generation reaching retirement age, exponentially more of us will need domestic workers to help us age in our homes and communities.

Thanks to Ann, through our love of Alice, we could begin to appreciate the people working inside our homes who are among the real heroines of this new day.

Poo is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and a co-director of Caring Across Generations

This appears in the June 16, 2014 issue of TIME.

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