Mary Clarkson Roth, passes at 83

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

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My mother was playful, wise and groovy. She signed her messages “Old Gray Mare” or “OGM”.

OGM was incredibly “loving” and “generous”, but avoided clichéd or grumpy language. Because of this, she found obituaries inherently problematic. (I’m sorry in advance mom.)

She loved grouper sandwiches, the Pittsburgh Pirates, hippy music, and dachshunds. She scribbled passages from songs and books she touched and pasted them all over her desk and refrigerator. When she was in a piano bar, she asked for “Send In the Clowns”. She respected both Led Zeppelin and Cole Porter.

She was a committed swimmer. She loved searching rabbit holes on the internet. She looked at the Triple Crown every year.

OGM was a word smith. Her letters were chatty, funny, and profound. She could write a letter of condolence that wraps you in a cocoon of comfort.

She was intellectual in the most natural and joyful sense. We sat on a bench once doing arm exercises while she casually explained what “Felix culpa” means. It had the best content.

She called people “sugar plums” and “apple dumplings”. As a lifelong collector of children’s books, she and her best friend referred to themselves as “Ratty and Moley” (h / t “The Wind in the Willows”).

She loved her daughters and their families, and valued her wonderful best friends, many of whom were lifelong. (She would think the word “appreciate” in her obituary would be a cliché, though. Sorry, Mum.)

OGM always ordered an unsweetened iced tea with extra lemon. Barack Obama was her husband. She was a master gardener but would never call herself one. It was good for her to enjoy so many things. Since Alzheimer’s took so much of their minds, they were the things that were left behind.

She was the strongest person I have ever known.

She has done her own brain damage through sheer willpower in the last few years of her life. After moving to assisted living far away from her hometown of Pittsburgh (“Provolone, RI – am I going there?”), She started a whole new chapter with a dear companion. She took dance classes, attended lectures and a book club, and made new friends. She was a carpenter.

As a film fan, she campaigned for her old parents to program more old classics. Whenever she surfed the channels, she always paused to watch a Madea movie. She found the ending of The Sopranos elegantly perfect.

She was modern and adaptable. She coped with it.

The former English teacher ran a medical care company with her husband for 30 years. She was skillful, smart, and incredibly knowledgeable. She certainly would not endorse any part of this paragraph. (“Who would care? It’s boring.”)

OGM was the funniest person I have ever known.

She spontaneously broke out into singing or dancing. It was easy to direct in skits. She was my friends’ mascot. She regularly came on vacation with groups of people who were 1/3 her age.

She spent her 70s the way most people would spend their 20s: living in a dorm-style apartment complex next to her boyfriend. Every morning John brought her a peeled orange and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and hung them in a bag on her doorknob.

Her grandson Cristian was her kindred spirit. Her granddaughter Natalie shared her love for art and design.

OGM was athletic and a cool cat. She fenced in at Vassar, played billiards and smoked (“we all smoked in our twenties, honey”). She gave great advice but was reluctant. She made an amazing liver pate, plum cake, and bolognese sauce. (“Honey, that sounds presumptuous – it’s spaghetti sauce.”)

Even though she was a goyim, she handled all of the Jewish holiday presentations in my elementary school.

When COVID hit, OGM was trapped in one of the most dangerous places: a retirement home. She spent the first few days of quarantine writing a haiku every day and my friends wrote her haikus back. By the end of the pandemic lockdown months later, she had lost the ability to write, send email, and use a phone.

And at some point she lost her words – all of them.

My mother, the strongest and funniest person I have ever known, passed away on Tuesday October 5th, 2021.

The first green of nature is gold
Your hardest to hold color.
Its early leaf is a flower;
But only for an hour.
Then leaf to leaf subsides.
So Eden sank in sorrow
That’s how dawn goes down today.
Nothing gold can stay.

-Roberts Frost

OGM leaves behind their daughters Nina Borromeo (Carl) and Margot Roth (Andy McCown); Grandsons Cristian and Natalie Borromeo; and many other relatives and friends. Her husband Chuck preceded her in death; Siblings Ruth and Sonny; best friends Reva and Martha; a long line of dachshunds and a collie.

The family thanks the many competent and loving caregivers who have become friends with OGM over the past few years: Donna, Kaylyn, Lori and Carina, as well as Wingate’s ground staff.

Donations in honor of the OGM can be made to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund or the HopeHealth Hospice.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Mary Clarkson Roth, please visit the flower shop.

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