Today I am presenting a very personal commentary. Last May, I lost Annie, my darling life-partner of 53 years. On November 2, former colleagues from both the Springfield and Longmeadow school systems as well as from the University of Massachusetts and the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center joined with family, friends and acquaintances at Mount Holyoke College’s Willetts-Hallowell Hall to honor her and celebrate her life. I am taking this opportunity to share with my listeners a few things about this amazing wonderful beautiful human being --- a woman with whom I have been privileged to share over five decades of my life, a woman who lived a wonderful --- but of course much too short --- life.
First of all, Annie is the reason I do these commentaries. I spent my professional life as a faculty member --- most of it at Western New England University (1970-2008 to be exact). There, I taught classes and published some economics and historical research. All that is the usual fare for college professors --- you teach and do research. But when I decided to try a book-length treatment of material that I had been teaching for almost 15 years --- the book that ultimately became SURRENDER, how the Clinton Administration Completed the Reagan Revolution (University of Michigan Press, 1998, 2000) --- it was Annie whose encouragement made sure the book would be finished.
She read many parts of it, improving the prose immeasurably. The fact that the final product was written in clear understandable English gave me the insight that even the dry technical language of economics could be turned into standard English. (In fact, from that day forward, I would introduce my introductory economics classes to the idea that though economists often spoke their own language (I called it “economese”) just as with any other language it could be translated into English.) Because of the lessons I learned working with Annie making sure that the final version of SURRENDER could be understood by the general public, I later became known to local newscasters in the Springfield area as, “an economist who speaks in English.”
It was that experience of turning my economic research into an accessible book that led me to contemplate trying to reach a larger audience than my students. And so, thanks to an invitation from WAMC, I began to deliver these commentaries in the Fall of 2005. Annie played two very important roles. She encouraged me to believe that what I was doing with these commentaries was useful, and she also helped make sure they were better when delivered than when I wrote the first drafts. She edited many of them --- making the prose truly understandable. She proposed ideas. Equally important, she helped me reject topics that seemed too arcane to be interesting. In short she was my muse.
Annie came to her skills because from the moment she entered college she knew she wanted to study subjects that involved lots of reading and understanding what she was reading. Initially she was a French major – enjoying the concept of “explication du texte” a method of digging deeply and seriously into the meaning of the written word. But in the end, she majored in comparative literature while retaining her love of languages. (She ultimately became fluent in Spanish while retaining her initial love of French and even in college acquiring a bit of German. In 2005 contemplating a trip to her paternal grandparents’ native Lithuania, she found a Lithuanian student working in Provincetown at a summer job and took some tutoring lessons.) Though she had a long career in the field of education, serving as a teacher of special education in Madison, Wisconsin and in Springfield and Longmeadow (where she later became chair of the special ed department), she never abandoned her love of the written word.
In 1980, at the suggestion of a friend she took a graduate course at U. Mass on art and practice of literary biography with Professor Steven B. Oates, the biographer of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Clara Barton among others. She fell in love with the genre and beginning in 1981, even during years that she was teaching full time (as well as – together with me -- raising our two teenagers to adulthood) she pursued first a Master’s and then a Doctoral degree at the university. Steven became more than a professor but a good friend. He introduced her to a number of other biographers in what was known as the Amherst creative biography group – many of whom became lifelong friends.
In 1981, she took a year-long graduate course in Women;s History with historian Joyce Avrech Berkman. This was the beginning of a long, relationship which began first as mentee and mentor and became a deep lasting friendship. Joyce and her husband Leonard became close family friends. In Joyce’s course she was introduced to the study of women’s history. Later courses with Professor Phillip Eddy and William Kornegay introduced her to the deep study the history of higher education. In all of these courses, she discovered that she had a gift for the written narrative. The coursework and her skills led her to submit as a dissertation a full length biography of the former President of Mount Holyoke, Mary Emma Woolley.
In 2003, after retiring from public school teaching and administration, she began a four year period of scholarly residency at Mount Holyoke College. These years were bookended by a fellowship at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center in 2003-2004 and an appointment as the first Lits Scholar in Residence at Mount Holyoke College in 2007-2008. The work she did over those four yeas culminated in the completion of her book A Male President for Mount Holyoke College, The Failed Fight to Maintain Female Leadership, 1934-1937. (McFarland, 2014).
She was of course much more than a consummate professional and outstanding writer. She was a loving mother, sister, daughter, wife, friend, advocate, activist, artist and finally a devoted grandmother to our wonderful grandchildren. (Her lifelong love of music led to over 15 years of singing in the Hampshire Choral Society. Her love of the visual arts involved, many media but towards the end of her life she began to produce lovely watercolors --- some of which grace our walls and the walls of friends and family.)
[A full obituary was published in the Springfield Republican on May 13, 2019. ]
Everyone who attended the event on November 2 were united in their views that she will be sorely missed but that her life of wonderful interactions with so many people will live on and on. Annie, I miss you and will love you forever.
[On May 14, our daughter Ivy delivered a eulogy at Annie’s funeral in Cold Spring, NY. I am pasting it here as written and delivered.]
Thank you all so much for being here. And thank you to Father Steve who found a way to bring this family of lapsed Catholics, Atheist Jews, and Curious Agnostics together under the beautiful roof of the progressive, open-hearted Episcopal Church that is St. Marys.
Still, only my mother could inspire MY dad to read from scripture in a church! And take communion!
When my parents were first married my father proclaimed loudly and stubbornly that he would never in a million years allow a Christmas tree in his home.
I really loved hearing this story as a kid while watching my dad bury his nose in our freshly cut Christmas tree, exclaiming loudly and enthusiastically just how wonderful it smelled.
My parents met at Camp Thoreau, set up by their dear friends Adrienne Rosner and Jerry Markowitz, who would soon to marry as well. My mother was the tennis counselor and my father the music counselor. They came from vastly different worlds and after a year of falling in love and corresponding from afar my father knew he wanted to marry her.
And when my father shakily told my mother who he was, not just a smart guitar-playing dude from Swarthmore but also the young man who’d had his parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, executed by the US government when he was 10, she tenderly responded “how awful that must have been for you”. She immediately read a massive tome about the trial and was convinced that my father’s parents had been framed. Despite objections from her own parents, my mother said yes to his proposal, took on his pain and rage and later supported the work he chose to do to clear his parents’ names. She became his protector and his champion and the one he wanted to come home to no matter how far he’d travelled for another speech or appearance.
Theirs is a 55-year love affair that is likely one of the greatest in history. This is not hyperbole. Those who knew my parents together will confirm that he was always her beloved Miguel and she his Bubbe (though I confess when I realized Bubbe meant grandmother, I was a bit confused).
My brother and I blossomed under the bright sun of our parents love. But it wasn’t always easy, we were challenging at times. Raised by intellectual parents who worked hard and had many friends, my brother and I had much to live up to and much that was expected of us. But because we were given the same independent streaks that runs through them both, we felt the tug of home while tempted by the outside world that wasn’t always kind to the hippie inter-racial, inter-religious children of the so-called Atom Spies. But our parents imbued us with strength that’s served us well in life and they held us close as we weathered the inevitable challenges of the world outside our beautiful bubble.
My mom worked so hard when I was a child, getting up before dawn each day to teach in the public school system and then when I was in high school adding doctoral studies to the mix. Her dissertation took many years to complete as she was always working full-time while writing it. But it was so well received that she was urged by her committee to consider turning it into a book and so again she embarked on an ambitious project, all while working full time. By now she was department chair of the special education department a public high school. And I was a teenager pushing the boundaries (of course!) yet my mother stayed sane during it all and we took trips and never forgot to celebrate (and celebrate!) holidays and birthdays and most importantly connecting with friends and family. She guided my brother and I through the challenging process of finding the right college to go to (even when I’d elicited horrified gasps at one point saying I didn’t think I wanted to go to college!) and every step of early adulthood and beyond we knew she and my dad would be there to catch us for whatever reason we may fall.
My mother had deep and abiding friendships that lasted throughout her life because she nurtured them, no matter how busy she was or ultimately how sick she became.
Her passion for singing with my dad evolved into the music parties that filled our living room on countless weekends and then 15 years as a member of the renowned Hampshire Choral Society, whose members included some very dear friends. Once they’d moved here, she and my dad were the inspiration for our own Acoustic Sunday gatherings where she enjoyed getting to know Thomas’ and my circle of friends.
My mom always painted with one her dearest friends until Adrienne’s death 2 years ago and once my parents moved here, she also found a community at the Garrison Arts Center.
In her early thirties she was involved in women’s groups and here in Philipstown 40 years after, dove right into local politics finding friends along the way.
When her book, a biography of the first female president of a college (Mt. Holyoke) was published, she was invited to be a scholar in residence there and found an even greater life of the mind that she found so gratifying. But it was the young researchers that she bonded with there that truly made it a place she wanted to spend much time.
When my brother married his lovely Polish wife Patrycja, she and my father travelled to Poland in order to get to know their new in laws. Similarly Thomas’ mother Diana became a regular at our Thanksgiving table and now his brother Jonathan every Christmas. Thomas’ father Bob and his wife Evelyn also became a part of celebrations and events and not just because they had grandchildren in common – it was because my mother drew them in and wanted us all together.
As an avid fan of her grandchildren’s many activities she naturally cultivated friendships with the parents on the sidelines of baseball and basketball games – she was a warm, receptive and interested person who people were drawn to.
When my parents began contemplating the move to Cold Spring they were quite conflicted, as they didn’t want to leave their friends and family in Western MA, it was inconceivable to do so.
To their great surprise and pleasure they discovered that Cold Spring is a place where you can live, and die, with community and love holding you tight. My family cannot thank you all enough for being here for us all in so many ways. It’s just miraculous that in this nasty divisive political climate our little oasis here gets it right. We love you all so much and our deepest gratitude for all you did for my parents during these last few very tough years.
But ultimately, my parents move here later in life brought them closer to my mother’s most cherished beings. Yes, she was happy to be nearer to Thomas and me (and closer also to Greg and Patrycja in Washington DC) but her greatest joy was her grandchildren.
Beginning in 2005 with the birth of Julian (named in part for her favorite character in French Literature, Julien Sorel in Stendhal’s The Red and the Black) and then in 2008 when Dylan Ann (Ann for my mother) was born – my mother became not just another grandma but their Nanoo. A pure love she showered on them, rejoicing in their every triumph and feeling their sorrow as keenly as if it was her own. She was most afraid of scaring them as her illness progressed – the desire to see them and be with them clashing with her equally strong desire to protect them. Julian and Dylan, Nanoo is so proud of you and will always be with you, she IS in you.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive look at my mother’s life, we would be here all night, but a glimpse at what I experienced growing up and throughout the years that has now struck me as an essential characteristic of my complex and multi-talented mother.
I’ve come to understand that in all of her pursuits: teaching, scholarly work, painting, music, and politics- what made them so meaningful were ultimately the people she was pursuing them WITH - the community that was created around those interests was as important as the work itself.
At the heart of all of her varied interests was the true meaning of communion.
This is why my parent’s friends were like family to us all. This is why there are so many of you here. This is why when my parents bought their house on Cape Cod it wasn’t a retreat for them but a place where we could all live together again and again. This is why when she taught adults English as a second language she’d be invited into the homes of immigrant families for meals and stories.
This is why to honor my mother we must dedicate ourselves anew to loving and cherishing all of the people we come in contact with. Not just our families, though if we follow my mother’s lead that is most important, but everyone we meet.
I love my mother, her curious mind, her laugh, her toughness, her huge collection of white blouses and black sweaters, the warm and cozy homes she’s created, her editing skills, her knack at finding the perfect title, her fussing over me, her harassing me, her love of gifts and giving gifts, her toes dug into the sand, her memories of beautiful places and friends and family, they are all here with us forever.
And, I love that she was proud of me – she told me so in our last conversation. She was proud of me, my brother, her sister/my aunt Kathy, our kids,…
But what that meant, when she said she was proud of me, of us – was that she was happy.
She was content. And she is at peace.
Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies.
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