From Gail Murphy Bigio, CLA, 1974
Nothing could be truer said than once you were in Freda's circle - you remained in Freda's circle.
As an undergraduate at BU, I heard stories about you Sam - stories about your days in high school, stories about your search for faith and practice of the Jewish religion. Your mom spoke in a way that made me feel that I knew you and of course, having met you and Michelle at your mom's house only confirmed my sense of family. Your mom shared her life - I learned about her sister and your father, and Paul, as well as other friend's in her life; I was introduced to vitamins and skin care products, charities - I remember sitting around the dining room table stuffing envelopes for some cause.
Your mom came to my daughter's Bat Mitzvah's and was effervescent and truly engaged with everyone. She also shared her home - we always had a place to stay whether she was at home or not, Generous doesn't begin to describe Freda.
Freda insisted that David, my friend Irene, and I join her for Opera at Northeastern's theater and then enjoy the cast party afterward. How could we refuse?
When Jamille got accepted to Harvard's Kennedy School it was Freda who gleefully told me stories about my daughter as a toddler being rambunctious.
My world is truly diminished without Freda - tea in the kitchen in Newton will remember my favorite memory, along with the various household boarders.
My dad died July 17th - I like to think that he and Freda waved to each other in heaven. My dad did several house chores for Freda - he put together her wooden file cabinets and some minor carpentry - Freda could get anyone to do anything for her ... and she was an excellent person to network with ...
From Joe Boden
Freda taught Psychology 101 when I was an undergraduate at BU in the 1980s, and I had the great privilege of being a Teaching Assistant for her class during my junior year in the spring of 1987. At the time I had very little real idea about what it was like to be an academic, and I was terribly afraid of the idea of speaking in front of a class, but with your mother's help and encouragement I gradually grew more confident and able. I really felt that the group of us were part of a wonderfully warm and nurturing environment.
A few years later, I was applying to graduate school, and I asked Freda for a recommendation. She asked which schools I was applying to, and I gave her the list, which included BU. She told me that while she would write recommendations for each school, she would in fact oppose my attending BU, because, in her opinion, what I really needed in terms of my own development was to move away from Boston and broaden my horizons. I was a young and fairly naive young man who had never lived outside of Massachusetts to that point in time, and I believe she saw very clearly that I needed to move on.
It will probably not surprise you that: a) I got into BU for grad school; b) mindful of Freda's advice (amongst other things, of course) I ended up attending Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland; and c) in retrospect, Freda's advice was exactly correct. Moving away was just what I needed at that time, and in the ensuing years I continued to broaden my horizons, such that at this point in my life I have lived and worked in four different countries, as an academic psychologist.
I will never forget Freda's kindness, her genuine interest in and concern for her students, and the ways in which she was able to somehow intuit the developmental needs of the young people who worked with her. Freda played an important role in my own life and career, and I will be eternally grateful for having been her student.
From Annette and Bob Cech
We knew Freda for less than a year, and it was mostly due to her reaching out to us as fellow newcomers that we became best of friends.
In the beginning, not a day passed that she didn't call to tell us of some event, lecture, concert, program, that she thought might interest us. Many of them we attented together, which made the experiences very pleasant as well as informative. She'd look at a concert program, recognize a piece, and tell us about it!
Here's a good movie at the Strand, wanna go?
I'm going to
be a docent at the Jewel Box - come and meet the Chamber people.
And she knew each by name! She also knew
everyone at Mayflower
by name - a spin off, she said, of learning dozens of students' names
in each class at BU.
She dropped in at our house foten, sometimes for supper (yum yum) or
just to have a cup of her hot water
teac. We shared bits of
leftovers to take home and she wanted to know how to carve a pineapple!
A visit around the corner to her charming place had her bring out her
fossils and show us paintings and prints she collected.
She shared, she cared, she tried to make the best of every situatio, having the cook prepare peas we bought at the farmer's market or ordering special meals from Phoenix when Susie came.
We will never forget Freda, full of spirit, full of concern for others, and our dear friend.
From Phyllis Geiss
I first met Freda more than fifty years ago. She had just come to New York from Chicago working for Bruno Bettelheim, so working in the research department of an advertising agency - long since defunct - was a new experience for her. She and I were assigned to work for the same supervisor (Sy Lieberman). The idea was that we would compete - it was a man’s world then. Instead, we worked together and became good friends. I met husband Bill who, Freda said, was the first man she felt comfortable sitting on his lap rather than the other way around. Bill was engaged in trying to bake a commercial product called Little Bo Pizza, which unfortunately never got off the ground.
Freda was fearless In demanding top quality. When Bill’s shirtcuffs frayed after a year, she wrote to the shirt company to say that the cuffs should have lasted longer. In return she got a nice letter and a box of new shirts. Some glasses weren’t sturdy enough - a letter to Libby produced a dozen new tumblers and an apologetic lettter.
When Freda and Bill moved to Boston, Radcliffe, BU, Polaroid and
Holland, my husband and I lost touch with them. Then after Bill died,
Freda sent us a dilpping and a note. Then she and Sam came to visit
at our Berkshire farmhouse and we took up as if no years had passed.
We have kept in touch by phone and visits, especially for celebratory
occasions. I have marvelled at her ability to rise over a host of medical
problems - (
They know me at the hospital.). I will miss her sorely.
From Shan He
Freda was a great person with a big heart and a very optimistic approach of life. However much we wished that she had not left us, we can rest comfort that she had enjoyed a full life and left many great footprints with us. She was a great teacher and mentor, which she also carried out of her classroom and integrated it to a part of her life. During my years of living with Freda, I saw her old students calling her, coming to visit her, some of whom was still seeking advices from her. Not only did she care for her own students, she really cared a great deal for students in general, and the relationship of professor-students. If you were a student, she really wanted you to have a great professor. If you were a professor, she truly wanted to see you become a great professor. As someone who was pursuing a Ph.D. study for an academic profession, I myself deeply feel this part of Freda and she played an instrumental role in my undertaking of a professor's role. I know that many other people also felt the same way. In this regard, it's not just the thousands of students who had Freda as a professor benefited, it's also the tens of thousands who had a professor that was influenced by Freda, who was inspired by Freda, to do a good service to the students.
What's more, Freda really enjoyed mentoring people to help them grow, whatever the relationship she had with them. I recall once went shopping with Freda in Staples after dinner, from the short conversation she had with the cashier she saw the cashier someone with potential that can outgrow her current position. Freda promptly left the cashier her card with her contact information. She wanted to help the young cashier to grow and realize her potential.
Freda gave herself a lot to the students, to people she knows or just get to know, and these she does not know. Every day, she made several dozens of phone calls, some of which were reconnecting with people she knew, some of which were checking up with friends who she thought may need her help, and some of which are either of her donating to a charitable organization or her helping the charitable organizations doing fund raising. She wanted to help the minorities to fight inequality. She wanted to help with artists to get some extra funding support to keep working on the profession they love...
As caring and kind as Freda to people, Freda really cares for the world. She is very environmental conscious. While living with Freda, we went extra miles in saving the resource to do our share of conserving the world. We would only run dishwasher when it is full; we tried to take short showers, reduce the need to flush toilet, and reuse paper towels when it allows... Some of the measures may seem extreme in light of the common practice here in US and some of it may be even annoying to some people. To be honest, I did not like all of the measures at the beginning. Were it not requests from Freda, but from somebody else, I would not have accepted it. However, my knowing of Freda let me see the good intent of conserving the world, not merely a matter of saving money. This understanding made me to go alone with Freda in doing so, and I still keep many of the recourse saving habits now.
Caring for people and caring for the world, Freda loved life and tried to make full use of every minutes. She usually got up early and had a full day scheduled for numerous tasks and events. She would make several dozes of phone calls, go to many different places, meet with friends for tea or lunch or dinner, go to concert or performance from time to time. She enjoyed good food, good drink, and good company. She was always highly spirited. Even at times when she was a little sick by herself, she beamed when visitors come.
I love Freda and I learned a great deal from her. I really appreciated many of the traits in Freda. It's very sad that we lost her. However, many memories and her positive influences will stay with us. My whole family want to express our sincere and deepest condolence. My parents stayed in the house for some time when they came to visit me, and they really love Freda. They always asked about Freda when I talk with them over the phone. My sister, Ping, also loves Freda and she also was helped by Freda a lot.
From Judith Kidd
It doesn't seem possible that the life force that was Freda is no longer.
My first meeting with Freda set the tone for our friendship and for my understanding of the endless depths of her energy, passion and capacity for joy. It seemed that within minutes of my arriving at Boston University's School for the Arts in July 1981 (as director of marketing and fundraising), Freda was at my door complaining that not enough was being done to publicize the School of Music's excellent Early Music Series. Frankly, I had no idea how she even knew who I was or what I was supposed to do since I was trying to figure those things out for myself! She was my first friend in Boston.
Her effort during the long years of John Silber's presidency of BU was some of her finest work. Despite Silber's impact on her salary (which never increased as long as she was chair of the faculty senate or president of AAUP at BU), she was a continuous force for academic freedom in an institution that seriously disregarded free speech during his long reign.
Over the 28 years of our friendship Freda weathered many health and personal crises, always springing back ready for more. We shared many, many hours of personal dissection, talking about motives, aspirations, failings, being mothers of sons, and always, always ending each discussion on a positive note. Freda was simply incapable of being discouraged for long (if at all).
I think that being Freda was not easy. I only knew her after Bill died and I know from her and others that his death changed her life irrevocably. She lost a stabilizing force and she worked hard to develop that capacity within herself, both for her sake and for Sam's. She had a wild energy that sometimes made it hard for her to focus or for others to match. I cannot count the number of invitations I received for fundraising events at her home on behalf of yet another organization that she had adopted. Yet, that was Freda and I always smiled (even as I shook my head) at her continuing receptivity to new ideas, new causes, new people, new experiences.
Nothing gave her more joy than Sam and Micki's family. I never doubted the wisdom of her move to Grinnell because it was clear that they were her priority as she aged. Her palpable joy in being a grandmother cannot be overestimated and I know that William, Jonathan and Daniel will never forget her. So much love will stay with them throughout their lives.
From Zella Luria
I've known Freda since 1958. She was a best friend and sister to me. While it's painful to write this, I want to talk about her generosity, her smarts, her courage, and her loves. These attributes were obvious to those that knew her well.
Her generosity was evident, even to her students, for she made loans
to them, asking in return only a sensible-sounding repayment plan.
When once a student admitted he couldn't repay a $400 loan, Freda
told me that
Banks rarely get back all of their loans, either.
Still, she had money for all of her many causes - political, cultural,
and professional. I can recall when her accountant (also mine) asked
Can you convince Freda not to give away more than she earns?
I'll try, I lied.
Her smarts were prodigious. Her course range was remarkably broad, probably because she hated doing the same things twice. And that was just teaching. She started the cello. She fell in love with a chorale group. She taught a course in Holland, and learned Dutch.
Courage? When she was needed, she was there. She opened her home to any
good cause that asked her. She never took a middle-of-the-road position
if there was a good left-wing alternative. Not that she took left-wing
claims at face value: she wrote letters to organizations asking why there
were no women or blacks on their staffs and boards. Once at an airport,
I heard a man describe a BU colleague taking on John Silber at a faculty
meeting, telling him,
Oh, come on, John, you can't believe that!
I told him,
That must have been my good friend, Freda Rebelsky!
Speaking of John Silber, Freda survived his repeated reviews of her
salary - a strange thing for a university president to spend his time
on - by taking on side jobs. As she saw it, her time was better spent
exposing Silber's treachery than trying to convince him of her worth.
Where she did focus on worth was in fund-raising. She was not above
saying to someone,
You've only given $25. Surely you can find more
for an organization that does so much with young people! The only
acceptable response was,
But I gave more money to X, though that
usually earned the response,
Good. How much?
In her reading group, which she organized of course, she would say,
This is not a good book. The heroine never does anything. She had choices, and wasted them. The group loved her for being so forthright, and her judgments nearly always launched us into good discussions. Some of my own young students reacted to Doris Lessing's To Room 19 the same way.
Finally, to Freda's loves. She loved her many, many friends and what they shared with her. But nothing compares to her love for Sam and his family. (Despite losing her weekly visits, I told Sam that she was right to move to Grinnell. I never doubted that she'd have the whole town at her feet in no time!) She simply adored them. She viewed Sam's tenure as a triumph for Grinnell. She praised Micki as a model MD, a view my late husband shared.
Before her last surgery, Freda told me,
I'm young. I have many
years to live. There is so much I want to do. I guess I really want
to live! And she does live, in my heart, forever.
From Betty Lou Marple
I can't say anything everyone else hasn't said or will say, but my personal story is so much like all the others you could just number them and call them up by, say, Encomium #487M, and get mine.
In l960 I was leaving my first job, a two-year introduction to the Real World after college as a secretary at MIT. I was in that humiliating position because the job I had originally been offered after graduation in 1957 by an old, stuffy Boston financial management firm, was taken from me by a phone call in May, which I answered in my dorm room. They called me to say they were sorry they could not hire me because they had just read my engagement announcement in the NYTimes. The End. I protested that a promise was a promise. No affirmative action lawyer to call in those bad old days.
I then worked briefly for a professor across the hall as a research assistant. Wonderful guy who was an early supporter and was in with the Kennedys when Jack first ran, and who was the best boss ever. He went to DC when Jack was elected and worked as Deputy Secretary of Something (he taught political science at MIT). He later became Chancellor at UMass Boston. It did mean I did real research at the Joint Center for Urban Studies of MIT and Harvard for a while but soon realized I was tired of having my work signed by someone else, no matter how generous and talented. Decided it was time to get another degree.
As, despite a certain amount of family interests, I had never thought about how much I liked the education business, and knew little of psychology. I thought to take time in the summer to try a course at Harvard Summer School. Good call. That course was taught by Youknowwho, and it helped me learn how to teach, which I only did as a practice teacher at the Ed School the following fall. I was dynamite, of course, but not like Fabulous Freda. Anyway, I liked her course so much I kept in touch with her in all following years as I caromed from university to college to university - five, maybe more - in the following decades. Poetic justice ruled, as women's colleges were by then especially looking for women administrators. Polly Bunting had just been made president of Radcliffe, and hired me quickly, and later employers included Wellesley and Wheelock. Probably one of the most enjoyable experiences was being Director of Financial Aid at Brandeis (a co-ed university hired a woman to do a job involving-gasp—numbers!) when it was still explaining itself as the fastest PBK authorized place in the world as a young university. It was the l960s, and Brandeis was being promoted heavily everywhere by the wonderman Abe Sacher. (He of course never would have considered selling donated art just to meet budget expectations...) He made it work out well, as you know. I was among the few lay people who knew early on of Brandeis from having read about this miracle in the public press and from having a high school classmate from Shaker Heights apply there. I remember her somewhat tentative explanation of her choice-what it was, where it was.
After a few years of that, as I continued up the academic administration
ladder, I realized that when I walked in the faculty commencement
processions at Wellesley I was one of the few with
just a master's
degree. Maybe I should teach, and have the kind of freedom faculty
have from constricted office hours, while I continued to raise our
three kids. So of course I got a PhD in my so-called spare time.
One of our kids, now 37 years old, gave me the chance to see you when
I visited him at Dartmouth, probably around 1991, which he thoroughly
enjoyed. I know you won't remember my seeking you out, but you were
very gracious about it.
Anyway, life went on, goes on, and the way it has gone springs directly from my admiration of, and education in life by, your blessed mother. The last time she and I met together we had lunch at a little place in Newton that she liked, and she was busily wrapping up her stuff in your house prior to joining you and your family at Grinnell. She spoke of your wife and you, and especially of her extraordinary grandchildren, whenever I would let her. I let her.
I am one of hundreds - probably more like thousands - who was made better in many ways by her influence. A few years ago I had her speak to a women's group (with which I was unaffiliated) at my wonderful Unitarian church, First Parish in Weston, and they were, as the cliché has it, blown away. Years ago I begged her to get together a resume brochure for going out in the world lecturing about what she Knew and Loved - and I don't mean just you and your father. She for some reason was against putting it all on paper, but I have no doubt that she was the Ultimate Teacher to everyone who met her, not only in the classroom.
An anecdote I have used repeatedly, as have others, involves her evaluation of the nature/nurture dilemma. She said it is sixty-sixty, an honest and sensible response to those who want it to be fifty-fifty but can't figure whether one is more important than the other and if so which one it is.
Well, she walked on water, as I know you do too. Others will speak and write of her more eloquently. She has my never ending love for her the person and teacher. You are an extremely lucky son.
From Tom Moore, Sam's colleague
I feel blessed to have gotten acquainted with Freda these last few weeks. I had met her at your house several years ago, but had begun visiting recently b/c she was rooming with a lady whom I have visited weekly for several years now. It was so much fun talking with Freda. She was such a positive force, so agreeable and optimistic, so smart, and so engaged with those around her. She knew everyone's name. She bore this recent string of health misfortune without any complaints, eschewing the opportunity for compaint whenever I asked how she might be doing.
It was so much fun introducing her to the Poetry Club two weeks
ago. She immediately contributed in neat ways, commenting on poems in
helpful ways, asking great questions. One of us read an original poem
Heirloom that was ostensibly about a ceramic cup, but Freda
spotted the divorce in it before the rest of us and also the elegance in
his 's effort and encouraged him to pursue publishing it. I re-read it
since several times and it is a lovely poem and Freda spotted that
loveliness on first hearing.
She read a favorite poem of hers by Gerard Manley Hopkins, one I was not really familiar with, even though I like the Hopkins poems I have studied. It is called "Spring and Fall: to a young child" and I have since read it over several times. It is a great poem. That poem was another gift of hers to me and to the group.
From just this short history with Freda, I can see what a force she must have been in the classroom and on the BU campus. Sam, I can see that you learned from her the sense of activism coupled with an agreeable manner of relating to those you work with. I guess that is a gift she gave to you.
Emily and I will continue to keep you all in our prayers and thoughts. How sad I am to lose someone I had so quickly begun calling a dear friend.
From Eileen Morrison
Freda was my freshman year Psych 101 professor in either 1979 or 1980; I can't recall whether it was first or second semester freshman year at BU. I do remember walking up the stairs to the fifth floor auditorium-style classroom in CLA for those 3 classes a week. I always wanted to go to her class, because she was unlike any adult I'd ever met. She talked often about her late husband, how much she missed him and what a good marriage she had with him. She was hurting, but no inappropriately so. It was an essential part of who she was, and she shared it with the class during that semester but never in a morbid way. She talked about her research, her time in the Netherlands, looking at infant development (using her own infant, which the class thought was kind of cool), carrying on occasionally about sexism and other issues of social justice. She had an interesting life up until that point, even if some of it was incredibly painful.
Her first day of class characterized her as a force, as someone
comfortable with herself and eager to connect with a huge class of
underclassmen, most of whom would not be psych majors. She stood up in
front of the class wearing some vivid necklace she had bought that was
made somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere.
Look carefully! she said,
these are copulating salamanders. Those were her exact words.
I had never met an adult who would have used that word, much less in
a classroom full of other people's kids. She had our attention.
She set herself apart, and encouraged us to observe things closely.
Her zest for life, even in the pain of her recent widowhood, was
unmistakable. She enjoyed interacting with students, enjoyed teaching
and enjoyed weaving in all kinds of things from her own life into the
This was something new for me. Although I grew up in a Boston suburb, I had never met anyone like your mother. She was authentic in a way adults and professors are usually not with young adults.
I didn't take another psych class because I was an English major destined for law school. But I haven't forgotten that first day of class, thirty years later.
From Jo Sephus
When Freda was preparing to move to Grinnell I went to her home to help with the packing process. I noticed and commented on Freda's wonderful bookcase headboard in her master bedroom. Her immediately response was, "you may have it if you want it, but it's very heavy to move. Well, I wanted it for two reasons: first, because I had been looking for a bookcase headboard, and second, because it was Freda's headboard, something that had been a part of her life for decades.
I went over one afternoon with a girlfriend to collect the headboard, knowing that it was going to take a miracle for us to get that 80"x60" solid wood headboard into my station wagon.
Well, we two women struggled and toiled until we managed to get the thing at least to the car. However, we realized that we just did not have the strength to lift it into the car. Freda was watching us from her front porch. I was about to give up when I heard, "Hello there, can you help us over here, can you help!" When I looked up, I realized that Freda had spotted two people, total strangers walking up and across the street. Well, the two strangers came over and the four of us managed to get the headboard into my car.
This was classic Freda and another opportunity to witness how to get things done...
I will miss her physical presence and her igniting smile. For those of us who were fortunate enough to know her, Freda's spirit and influence will circumnavigate this earth eternally.
From Sally Clark Sloop, Sam's 2nd & 3rd Grade Teacher
Hi Sam - I had a phone call today from Gloria Levin telling me of your mother's death. I was very moved by and humbled to be included in this news. The fact that I was even in your Mother's Rolodex astounded me...even though I have been in touch in small ways over the years. Freda was a powerful woman in the best of ways and a wonderful influence on my life.
When I began teaching at Underwood School in Newton...now 42 years ago, I was soon to meet your parents. Imagine the concerns of a distinguished educator leaving her precious first born and only child at the threshold of public school. I was privileged to be your teacher for 2 years. Your parents were so supportive of my efforts and requested you get to remain with me for the 2nd and 3rd grade combination the following year. To me, that was a compliment I have not lost sight of after all these years. Since then, I've spent 25 years as a classroom teacher and another 15 in professional work trying to influence and advocate NC's service delivery system for young children with disabilities here .Your mother was someone who gave me that kind of confidence to speak out long ago. Nowadays, I suspect few people invite your child's teacher over for dinner...your parents were the exception. I can remember many wonderful times at your home on Billings Park. BTW-We had a wonderful Underwood School reunion 2 years ago. I've never lost touch with those roots and the staff I taught with.
Perhaps you remember that your parents make their Martha's Vineyard home available for our honeymoon 33 years ago. [Sam notes that it was a place we rented, not owned.] David and I had a wonderful week as a result of such generosity. Your mother's words were, "Remember this gift when you are in a position to give something to someone yourself." Those words have not been lost on this family. Our efforts to tithe (David's still a Lutheran pastor) and to give to many other social causes are priorities our value system...all I am certain what we choose to give to are services your mother would approve of.
I am grateful that your mom lived to see Obama elected...I have no doubt she could hear North Carolina cheering all the way to Iowa. I understand you and Michelle have 3 beautiful children. I'm glad they can grow up within the fine legacy of your parents. I re-read the tributes to your dad as a result of this website and your mother's speeches and writings. Your children are blessed for the lessons your parents have passed on to them. Thank you for letting me know through Gloria about your mother's death. My thoughts are with you and will be with you as you celebrate her life in Newton, very close to the sight where I first met and adored you as your teacher.
From Roye Wates, CAS Music
Freda Rebelsky was one of the greatest and certainly one of the most
charismatic teachers in the history of BU. To her legions of students
in PS101, she was the Pied Piper incarnate. Who knows how many of them
decided to major in Psychology simply because of her. She won not only the
Metcalf Cup and Prize but numerous national teaching awards. But Freda
was more than a teacher; she was a presence - funny, passionate, loud,
ranting, but above all, loving. Such was her effect on PS101 that for
some years after she retired, the enrollment dropped off precipitously.
A student of mine who sought her advice on my recommendation - he wasn't
in any of her classes - came back with a typical Freda story. Her advice
had been first-rate, he said; then she asked,
And what will you do
for me in return? She believed there should be an exchange. I think he
picked up her dry cleaning or something.
Arguing with Freda - having a simple discussion wasn't always possible - could wear you out. She got louder and louder, arguing not just with her mind but with her whole heart, soul, and body. I often just gave up. Auditing a class of mine after she retired, she would sometimes squirm and squirm, then proffer unsolicited advice to me, whether it was germane to the topic at hand or not. Right there in class.
She and Central Administration were locked in combat for years. Freda was fearless in pointing out what she perceived as its errors, and she suffered mightily for it. Her salary was finally frozen and she was told that it would never change. Despite being one of our finest academic advisors, she was fired from the CAS Advising Center for political reasons, and that broke her heart almost more than anything else. A few years later, she took early retirement.
BU owes an enormous debt to people like Freda. What a shame that she left us so long ago that few of us are around to remember what a firebrand she was. My warmest condolences to her family. Dear Freda, rest in peace; but Heaven, look out!
A followup from Gloria Levin
Perfect. That SO captures Freda; it's the best I've seen so far for documenting the whole of Freda, including her push backs. I can just see her squirming while auditing the class, going nuts because she did not agree with his pedagogical style and/or the substance of his lecture. Freda was constitutionally unable to sit in silence, so he was a brave professor to have allowed her to audit his class. Her insisting that students exchange services for her advising drove ME nuts because I felt that was part of her job, to advise. We fought about it. However, I now have a better sense of why she did it.