03 August 2012

Marcia "Marty" Brown Stern, 1932-2012

Sylvia Plath's great friend, and college roommate Marcia "Marty" Brown Stern passed away on July 25, 2012. In addition to being mentioned in Plath's journals dozens of times, Plath wrote more than 20 letters to her friend, all of which are available for reading in the Sylvia Plath Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College. These letters show a close friendship and a very warm and caring side of Plath that is often ignored. In October 1961, just after Plath and her husband Ted Hughes moved to Court Green in North Tawton, Plath wrote the poem "The Babysitters" which reflects on her summer experiences in 1951 when she worked as a nanny in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Marcia was also a nanny, a few houses away. Plath's journals also chronicle this summer.

From the The Concord Journal, July 31 to August 7, 2012:

"Marcia Marty Brown Stern, a long-time resident, teacher and prominent child advocate died after a difficult struggle with recurrent ovarian cancer in her home on July 25, 2012. She was nearly 80. Marty devoted her professional life to work with families and young children. She specialized in teaching children on the autism spectrum. She worked mainly in early intervention programs that helped those below age four who were at risk for developmental delays. Much of her work, and her graduate study in early childhood education, were motivated by the developmental challenges of her son, whom she thought schools and public programs could serve better. She was a central figure who helped drive changes in Massachusetts law guaranteeing educational opportunities for all students, including those with special needs. Among the measures she lobbied for was the so-called Chapter 766, passed in 1972. The state law was the first non-categorical law guaranteeing all special needs children the right to a free public education suited to their conditions. Prior to the Massachusetts law, families in the state frequently faced financial ruin when providing basic education to a special needs child. The law later served as the model for the first federal special education legislation. Marty also worked for reforms in local laws and practices in Concord, MA, which expanded resources to families with developmentally challenged children. She established the Concord Area Pre-School Association to provide scholarships to students with special needs. Those scholarships continue. For more than 30 years, she was a board member of The Gifford School, a private school for special needs children in Weston, MA. She also taught for many years at the Milldam Nursery School and Early Intervention in Concord. Born in Orange, NJ on July 28, 1932, Marty was the only child of Carol Taylor and Archibald L. Brown. She graduated from Smith College (A. B., Sociology and Child Study, 1954) and later obtained her M.A. in early childhood education from Lesley University. At Smith, Marty was roommate of poet Sylvia Plath. Their friendship continued until Plaths death in 1963. On occasion, she found herself interviewed by Plaths biographers and became an important resource of the human side of Plath at a time when the poets place in the public imagination grew to heroic proportions. Plath marked their friendship in an unpublished poem titled Marcia, which dates from their time together at Smith. Just prior to her death, Marty donated the poem to Smith College, to which she earlier bequeathed papers and letters relating to Plath. The poem, which captures much of Marty's spirit, includes the passage: she will be always as now: cheeks appleshining translucent from soapandwater scrubbing. she will be always sight of market in the morning: red cheek of beet and radish squashyellow hair and mirrored purpleblack of eggplant eye laced with celerysilver lashes, vegetable and vital. Marty remained an avid reader of poetry, especially the nature poets and writers: Frost, Thoreau, and Mary Oliver, among others. She loved walking on Goose Rocks Beach in Cape Porpoise, Maine where she spent her childhood summers and had a second residence. She delighted in trekking among the hills of Wales, and enjoyed canoeing, hiking, and x-country skiing. She had wide-ranging musical tastes, played the piano and had a particular love for Early Music. Marty is survived by her husband Ernest, children Cary Frye, Douglas Plumer and Eric Stern; and step-children Jessica, Sara, Hilary, and Jennifer Stern; as well as eight grandchildren. A memorial service in celebration of her life is planned for 12 noon, September 15, at the First Parish Church of Concord. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to The Gifford School or Elm Brook Place in Bedford, MA."

I also wrote a little bit about Marcia and Plath in this blog post, "Two Cork Dolls," from http://sylviaplathinfo.blogspot.com/2010/06/two-cork-dolls.html 21 June 2010. And you should not hesitate to read Kathleen Connors excellent essay "Madonna (of the Refrigerator): Mapping Sylvia Plath's Double in 'The Babysitters' Drafts" in 2011's Representing Sylvia Plath.

In "The Babysitters" Plath evokes the nature of their friendship, which was maintained via the medium of letter writing and occasional visits after college ended (Plath was also a bridesmaid in Brown's first marriage in June 1954). She ends the poem quite beautifully and sentimentally:

"What keyhole have we slipped through, what door has shut?
The shadows of the grasses inched round like hands of a clock,
And from our opposite continents we wave and call.
Everything has happened."

Rest in peace.
©The Estate of Marcia B. Stern.
From The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, image 5.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

'I remember Jody, my best and only girl-friend in my freshman year, making me scrambled eggs at her house one morning. They tasted unusual, and when I asked her if she had put in anything extra, she said cheese and garlic salt. I asked who told her to do that, and she said nobody, she just thought it up. But then, she was practical and a sociology major.'

I recalled this passage from the Bell Jar when I opted to study sociology and english at university. I made a link between being practical and inventive and a sociology major - feeling that would be something desirable. I ended up studying it for 8 years through to PhD level and now it's my job. Thank you Marcia Brown for your small, unintended pseudonymous role in inspiring my career.

I don’t put cheese and garlic salt in my scrambled eggs though. I put chipotle hot sauce in.

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