Eulogy for Marilyn Freedman


Rev. Mark Evens

Marilyn G. Freedman, was born Marilyn Gottehrer in 1928 in New York City in the borough of Brooklyn. She kept proof of this fact with her always in her Brooklyn accent. Marilyn was the younger of two children born her father, who was a piano teacher, and her mother, Ann, who would later work as a pharmacist. The family was culturally Jewish but not religiously observant. Marilyn used to complain that all she got for Christmas was an orange.

Marilyn and her brother Donald, who we heard from earlier, were very close, so close some thought they were joined at the hip. She and Donald often went to Coney Island together where they could ride the rides all day for a nickel, and Nathan’s hot dog’s were the only hot dogs for her.

Though it may not be fair to say it in his absence, and though it did not appear to damage their relationship, when they were young Donald apparently had a habit of tricking Marilyn out of her fair share when splitting candy bars with her, and I hear that in addition to the little miss hap with the pickup truck, there was a similar scary incident earlier, involving Marilyn in a baby carriage on a hill. Or perhaps the pick up truck became a baby carriage through a long chain of telling and miss telling? Anyway, in both stories Marilyn came out of it OK. And of course Marilyn was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.

Marilyn graduated from Lafayette High School in Brooklyn in 1944 at age 16, and lost her father to a brain aneurysm that same year.

With World War two still in progress, she then attended the School of Nursing at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn as part of the last Army cadet nursing class.

After graduation Marilyn and her nursing school friend Lillian, who we heard from earlier, got jobs at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark.

Marilyn received a Bachelor’s degree from the New York University School of Education. and later earned a Master’s degree from Columbia University Teacher’s College. She became Director of the School for Practical Nursing at the Hospital for Joint Disease in Harlem where she co-authored a Medial-Surgical Workbook for Practical Nurses.

As you have heard, Marilyn and here friends from nursing school had an active social life, hosting well attended parties in their apartment. Marilyn had a number of young men interested in her. Their interest, and Marilyn’s, lasted for various lengths of time. After the first basement apartment Marilyn and Lillian shared a 3rd floor walk-up on 78th Street. Some dates only made the climb once. Perhaps others were brought to an early decision by the helpful practice of requiring that guests not leave empty handed, but rather assist with taking out some garbage as they departed. This may have helped move some obnoxious doctors on to other likelier possibilities.

Marilyn did not lack for suitors and so she had her standard. She knew her husband would not snore and would have a good head of hair – no baldies for her.

In 1957 during summer vacation from school, Marilyn worked at a hotel in the Berkshires that had been converted from an old mansion.  Larry had recently ended an engagement and was taking a break from his job as a district executive with the Boy Scouts of America, working on Long Island. It was the Fourth of July weekend 1957.

Larry went to the Seven Hills Inn because of a newspaper ad that said that lox and bagels would be offered. This was a clue that someone culturally Jewish, such as Larry, who loved lox and bagels, would be welcome. He arrived with his hat on and met Marilyn who was receiving guests at the front desk. She checked him in, while at the same time “checking him out.”  Larry kept his cool. He asked her to walk with him by the lake. The hat stayed on. Marilyn was also in charge of seating guests in the dining room. She managed to seat Larry at her table next to her, and maybe the rest of the women she seated at the table were a generation older.

Marilyn also served as concierge at the hotel and knew about the local cultural options. Together Larry and Marilyn went to hear music at Tanglewood, to the ballet, and the theatre. Whenever it happened, by the time Larry took his hat off, Marilyn was hooked, and so was Larry.

They decided to get married in December of that year. The question was “where?” They debated. Larry had also grown up in a culturally Jewish non-observant household. His father used to keep Larry out of school on Jewish holidays because “it would not look good.” This was quite fine with Larry.

Marilyn suggested they get married at the Ethical Culture Society. Larry said, “What’s Ethical Culture?” It was an easy decision once Marilyn described it. They were married at the Ethical Culture Society of New York City on December 21st 1957. They went to historic Williamsburg for their honeymoon.

They first lived in an apartment on Long Island. Marilyn commuted back into the city to her job in Harlem. Larry was busy with Boy Scout meetings many evenings and had to be away helping with summer camp for a month each summer. Marilyn did not like this work schedule of Larry’s.

After a while Larry got a market analyst job with a publisher in New Jersey. and the couple moved to Englewood, New Jersey. They joined the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County and got involved. Larry served on the Board. Marilyn had a difficult experience teaching a particularly unruly 7th grade Sunday school that put her off Sunday school teaching for life. The leader there who assigned her the task later admitted that he had made a big mistake and was very apologetic. 

With love to share, Larry and Marilyn adopted Emily, born in 1961. In 1963, Marilyn thought she had an ulcer. In a happy surprise, it turned out to be Matthew, born in November of that year. In 1966 the family moved to Lincoln Park, New Jersey and welcomed Julie in April.

With the arrival of Emily, Marilyn had retired from nursing. In the 70’s, with the children a bit older, Marilyn became a “Tupperware lady” helping New Jersey homemakers keep their leftovers fresh with all manner of well designed plastic ware. She eventually served as a sales manager. The children got to help assemble the orders and sometimes go with her to make deliveries.

Which calls to mind one part of suburban life Marilyn definitely did not enjoy: driving. Marilyn always hated driving. When the children became teenagers she was happy for them to be driving themselves just as soon as possible.

The family relocated from New Jersey to Pittsburgh for two years to accommodate a job change for Larry. It was here that Marilyn and Larry first participated in a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

They returned to Ridgewood, New Jersey for a bit, then, in 1974 the family moved to Michigan where Larry went to work for Master Data Center. 

When Larry’s work involved attending conventions, he usually was able to take Marilyn along. For vacations the family sometimes went on road trips and sometimes camping trips together. Marilyn actually did not like camping so much since for her “Camping is no vacation”. She much preferred when Larry took the kids off camping on his own. That was her idea of a real vacation. But they did have memorable trips together. The last camping trip was a three-week road trip with stops in Colorado and at the Grand Canyon, later visiting Marilyn’s brother Donald and his wife in Scottsdale.

Another trip took the family to Disney World in Florida. You have heard how the experience of getting lost on a “shortcut” through the orange groves lives on in family lore.

In addition to Larry and her children, Marilyn had her other passions and interests. She loved cards. One day someone invited her to join a bridge game. Though she did not know the game she said, “Sure,” then stayed up all night learning the game from a book she found. People have called her a card shark. She was a gamer but not interested in gambling at all.

Marilyn was a voracious reader. On family trips she would take along as many books as she could carry. She loved novels and mysteries. When she was a nursing teacher she got to serve as a consultant to author Helen Wells for the “Cherry Ames” series of teen-girl novels about the nurse/detective Cherry Ames. There are two inscribed samples of the series among the memorabilia displayed at the reception today.

Marilyn also loved TV drama. One time when she was attending an Alliance meeting here at BUC, someone thought she overheard Marilyn and her friend Beth discussing troubled friends. In fact the topic was really a recent episode of the Guiding Light soap opera.

Howard Radest, the leader at the Bergen County Ethical Cultural Society, had told them about the Birmingham Unitarian Church and its then-minister Bob Marshall. When they arrived in Michigan, Marilyn and Larry quickly found the church and got very involved.

Marilyn was one of the early “Tuesday Tigers,” the group who have long helped to fold and mail the church newsletter on Tuesday afternoons. She participated regularly in this group for 25 years. She started the BUC bridge group which continued for many, many years. She helped at many potlucks. It can now be revealed that, though Marilyn claimed to be a baker, she used boxed cake mixes. Marilyn served on the BUC Board of Trustees, and was active in the church’s twice yearly rummage sales.

Some of Marilyn’s other passions: jelly beans (her favorite snack), Mr. Goodbar chocolate bars, chocolate ice cream (She had a real sweet tooth and usually had a stash of sweet things somewhere.),  Barbra Streisand: Marilyn and Larry were able to enjoy the original Broadway production of West Side Story. Barbra Streisand’s version of the song Somewhere from that show was a favorite. She also loved the music of Beethoven, specifically requesting Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which we heard just before this eulogy, be included in her memorial service.

Marilyn loved movies. She memorized the Oscar winners, actors and directors even in her last years. Apart from Larry, her favorite men were Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen. She enjoyed watching “Inside the Actor’s Studio” with its in-depth interviews with actors.

Marilyn liked cooking, but never sewing. Somehow, even though she had been a nurse, she was afraid of needles. To attach buttons she used one of those “Buttoniers” advertised on late-night TV. She used her social skills to meet the family’s  other sewing needs, recruiting Mrs. Wilson from across the street to sew choir uniforms and such.

She enjoyed needlepoint and doing the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Marilyn had a great sense of humor. When her kids were teenagers she was know as a “cool mom,” laid back. She was steady, providing what one daughter described as a “low drama childhood.” She taught responsibility. She shared her liberal views of politics and religion. She was non-judgmental, giving and charitable.

Marilyn and Larry together cared for Marilyn’s mother at the end of her life. They took her into their home, helping her to die surrounded by love at age 87.

Marilyn was direct in her reactions. She spoke her mind even if it meant referring to someone as “an idiot.”

Her eyes were never so good, but she had great hearing. Once, in later years when she was in a nursing home, there were two TV sets on in a room, one with sports news and one with CNN discussing a shooting somewhere. Marilyn asked. “What was that about? A basketball player murdering someone?!!”

She loved animals. She had a dog for fifteen years. She had two Siamese cats, Pywacket and Tushinda which she acquired at a Tupperware party - their prior owners were moving overseas. Daughter Julie and granddaughters got her a new cat two years ago.

Recent years had both joys and challenges for Marilyn. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago. A stroke created weakness and loss of some vision on the left side. She persisted with large print books and books on CD.  Larry read the BUC newsletter to her regularly in her last year.

She kept her liberal views, her directness and her sense of humor. In the hospital and nursing home they frequently needed to assess her mental  functioning, and over and over  would ask her “Who is the  president.” She would reply “George Bush –unfortunately.”

Larry and her children and family and friends loved her dearly and cared for her lovingly.

Marilyn was in great spirits last summer for the celebration of her 50 years together with Larry. It was a wonderful party one year ago.

Last winter when Larry pushed himself too far in his care giving efforts and got pneumonia,  Matt came from Seattle for several days to care for him, keeping Emily and Julie well informed of how things were progressing. Matt then passed the car keys to Julie at the airport who came to relieve him.

The end finally came. Marilyn came at last to a peaceful rest on Monday morning, June 30th, 2008.

While she is no longer physically with us, we can keep Marilyn alive in our hearts by remembering all that she brought into our lives.