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NewsFeb 17, 2023

Family, friends and colleagues remember Mary Mindess

Early Childhood Education professor emerita’s generosity, dedication and joyful personality highlighted during funeral

Professor Mary Mindess at Alumni Weekend 2017

By John Sullivan

It is never the right time to say goodbye to someone you love, yet family, friends and colleagues gathered in person and via livestream Wednesday afternoon to do just that.

Professor Mary (Goldman) Mindess, born Feb. 7, 1930, in Portland, Maine, died at home several days after her 93rd birthday.

“Though I understand that 93 is a good life,” Mindess’s daughter Karen Waldstein said during the graveside service attended by university President Janet L. Steinmayer, trustees Chair Hans Strauch, and other Lesley community members, “93 years is not enough.”

Mindess was one of Lesley University’s first professors of Early Childhood Education, where she taught for 53 years, and contributed long after her retirement.

She was notable for innovation and lifelong learning, but her true passion was in building powerful connected relationships with colleagues, staff and students. In 1962 she launched the New England Kindergarten Conference, which ran for 40 years.

Professor Mary Mindess speaking
The late Professor Emerita Mary Mindess

According to her obituary and speakers at her service, Mindess taught the first online course for Lesley, and delighted in bringing together learners and ideas from around the world. She helped to establish the Reggio Emilia Inspired Institute at Lesley, now in its third decade.

On Wednesday, mourners celebrated not only Mindess’s many accomplishments, but her humanity.

“Today, we take comfort in gathering as a family,” said Cantor Shanna Zell from Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, opening the services. “Self-confident, cerebral, and ever-ready with a plan, Mary was a doer but never expected credit for her accomplishments.”

“One of Mary’s greatest legacies is her role at Lesley,” Zell added. “To this day, she is still revered as an icon.”

The cantor then quoted an ancient Jewish teaching, first in Hebrew, then in English: “Appoint for yourself a teacher. Acquire for yourself a friend.”

“Every year of her 93 years was productive, filled with work, activities, people,” Waldstein said, recalling her ever-present smile and her insistence on inviting to her children’s birthdays all their classmates, believing “no one should ever be left out.”

“She was all about seeing the value in people,” Waldstein added.

The gathering included many tears, but they were matched with laughs as family members recalled Mindess’s self-acknowledged terrible cooking, singing and driving amid a lifetime of caring and generous acts.

Granddaughter Danielle Mindess recalled “Nana” giving the then-23-year-old her own car, leaving in it a “ridiculous pair of sunglasses,” which Danielle continues to treasure.

“They’ll always remind me of Nana,” she said. “One-of-a-kind, and always there when you need them.” 

Professor Emerita Joanne Szamreta recalled the central role family played in her late colleague’s life, recollecting that Mindess’s granddaughter accompanied them on professional travel to Belgium, adding fun and a spirit of adventure and play to the excursion.

That spirit was reflected in Mindess’s work, Szamreta said in her remarks in the service, which took the form of a letter to her late friend.

“Mary, you were a woman with a very kind and generous heart, who invited many Lesley students, friends and colleagues to come into it,” Szamreta said. “You also were a gifted educator … always with a well-developed spirit of play and joy.”

Szamreta, as a new faculty member at Lesley, recalled the Kindergarten Conference Mindess organized, and at which the two became fast friends. Mindess put herself out there for Szamreta, encouraging her in a way she saw her encourage others over the years.

Mindess’s sister Sheila Goldstein recalled the late professor’s work ethic — striving to finish a professional document “in the throes of a serious illness.”

“What you’ve given to the educational community, and the larger community, will live on,” Goldstein said. “The influence you’ve had on your children, your grandchildren and your students will be passed on for generations.”