Marylynn Boris died on January 25th at the age of 91. She was that rare person who was as kind as she was fierce. Born in Evanston, Illinois at the start of the Great Depression and raised in Winnetka she absorbed both her parents' midwestern values and a strong sense of gratitude for comforts her family could afford. Her diary in high school included stirring entries related to a crush on one of her English teachers; even then she had a way with language and a passion for life and literature. Her years at Pembroke College (Brown University, following her father, John J. Monk, class of xx) were remarkable. Her college years were marked by experiencing both unspeakable tragedy (the sudden accidental death of her younger sister, Joyce, then in high school) and flourishing successes (May Queen, class of 1952; graduating cum laude in English Literature). From Pembroke, she went abroad and then to University of Chicago to complete her Masters Degree in English. Her thesis focused on the then relatively unknown writer, Virginia Woolf. Her first job-- in her first career– was teaching English at the University of Nebraska. Between Pembroke, her graduate studies and in Nebraska she began to spin an incredible web of long-term friendships that grew in number every year and in each of her life phases. It is fair to say that these friendships sustained her over the next 70 years.
She had two 30-year partnerships in life with complex and strong-willed men. The first, with her husband and father of her three children, Harold N. Boris (1932-1996) began when she was teaching in Nebraska. The couple married in 1955 and set up house in Chicago, where her daughter, Vanessa was born When Marylynn was 31 the family moved to north-central Vermont where she gave birth to her two sons (Neil, 1962 and Evan, 1965). She balanced the roles of wife and mother– raising her children in a home that was purchased despite having no potable running water– while also teaching courses in Shakespeare at nearby Goddard College. In 1967, the family moved to the suburbs of Boston where Marylynn began a career shift even as she supported her husband’s burgeoning psychoanalytic practice and teaching career, while shepherding her three kids through public school, creative arts, sports and so on. Talk about a juggling act!
Always interested in human services, she began her second career in her 40’s as a child mental health practitioner. Her work was often difficult as many of the children she treated were referred from social services and came from families in acute stress. But she loved working with children and was deeply sustained by her network of wonderful colleagues. After a 27-year marriage, she divorced. Her new chapter of life allowed her to live very much on her own terms. She completed her PhD in psychology while working full time and began her second life partnership with Peter Grad who answered her personal ad in the New York Review of Books.
Her children, now grown and career bound, watched with wonder as their mother befriended her ex-husband’s second wife, built an academic career in mental health (presenting at international meetings) and settled into an apartment in Concord MA that she and Peter would share for 29 years until his death at age 94. Marylynn and Peter traveled the world together over those 3 decades, often centered around visits to Peter’s native Austria and visits with members of both extended families. At home, they balanced local eco-activism, with music , theater, and dinner with friends. Marylynn was active in the lives of all five of her grandchildren: Julianna (17), Jacqueline (16), Cooper (14), Isabelle (11) and Anderson (9). She adored both of her daughters-in-law, Adena and Alani.
After Peter died, Marylynn moved to Florida to live with Neil and Adena’s family, integrating into a 5-person household while maintaining independence and pursuing her lifelong interests. She joined the family’s Unitarian church, made fast friends and soon had a social calendar filled with concerts, theater outings, book clubs, choir rehearsals and so on. When her son finally wrested her car keys away at 88, she became Uber’s best customer in Central Florida.
A citizen of the world, Marylynn believed deeply in the principles upon which this country was founded. She viewed liberty and justice as unassailable rights. And she believed that her country would one day manage to heal from it’s (often unexamined) history of inequity by building a diverse and open society that would come closer to exemplifying those founding principles. She believed in America’s greatness and also believed a more perfect union would not happen without a fight. So she fought. In the last weeks of her life, she wrote hundreds of postcards to Florida voters urging people to vote their conscience; often she couldn’t sit up comfortably or write clearly, nonetheless write she did. Not one for online donations, each year she sent dozens of envelopes filled with checks to organizations whose missions matched her convictions. While she showered others with presents and occasionally shopped for herself, she gave away more money than she spent.
And then she found out she had cancer for the third time in her life–she’d already survived early stage breast and colon cancer years before. But this time it was inoperable cholangiocarcinoma. She set about dying by living. From choir, to volunteering, to postcards and book clubs, to family dinners and board games, to concerts and meals with friends, she made the most of her days, pausing only for various healthcare procedures. Her last summer included an extended trip to her family’s island camp in New Hampshire where she wheeled her walker to the boat most days, pushing on despite being exhausted from radiation treatment. One of her last book clubs reviewed a book that was about how to approach having one year to live; while she understood that she likely had less than a year, she never missed a meeting.
Marylynn Boris died in her bed. Before she went, she made sure to tell her friends, children and grandchildren how much she loved them. As she took her last breaths, she wept.
An online memorial service is planned for February 19, 2022 at 4PM Eastern Time. Individuals wishing to participate should contact Neil Boris at firstname.lastname@example.org and a link for a group remembrance video and the online service will be provided.
In lieu of flowers, Marylynn asks that donations be made in her name to the New Image Youth Center in Orlando, where she volunteered in the last years of her life: https://newimageyouth.org