Mary Clarkson Roth
July 7, 1938 – October 5, 2021
My mother was game, wise, and groovy.
She signed off her missives “Old Gray Mare” or “OGM.”
OGM was incredibly “loving” and “generous,” but she eschewed clichéd or mawkish language. For this reason she found obituaries problematic by design. (I’m sorry in advance, Mum.)
She loved grouper sandwiches, the Pittsburgh Pirates, hippie music, and dachshunds. She scribbled passages from songs and books that touched her and taped them all over her desk and fridge. When at a piano bar, she requested “Send In the Clowns.” She respected both Led Zeppelin and Cole Porter.
She was a dedicated lap-swimmer. She loved to go down internet rabbit holes. She watched the Triple Crown every year.
OGM was a wordsmith. Her letters were chatty, funny, and profound. She could craft a sympathy letter that wrapped you in a cocoon of comfort.
She was intellectual in the most natural and joyous sense. We once sat on a bench doing arm exercises while she casually explained what “felix culpa” meant. She had the best content.
She called people “sugar plum” and “apple dumpling.” A lifelong collector of children’s books, she and her best friend referred to each other as “Ratty and Moley” (h/t “The Wind in the Willows”).
She loved her daughters and their families, and she cherished her marvelous array of best friends, many of them over a lifetime. (She’d think using the word “cherish” in her obituary was cliché, however. Sorry, Mum.)
OGM always ordered an iced tea unsweetened with extra lemon.
Barack Obama was her man.
She was a master gardener but would never describe herself as such.
It served her well to delight in so many things. As Alzheimer’s claimed so much of her mind, they were the things left behind.
She was the strongest person I’ve ever known.
She powered through her own brain damage in the last years of her life through sheer force of will. After moving to Assisted Living far from her hometown of Pittsburgh (“Provolone, RI — is that where I’m moving?”), she started a whole new chapter with a dear companion. She took dance classes, attended lectures and book club, and made new friends. She was a joiner.
A movie buff, she lobbied for her old folks home to program more old classics. If surfing the channels, she’d always pause to watch a Madea movie. She thought the ending of The Sopranos was elegantly perfect.
She was modern and adaptable. She got on with it.
Formerly an English teacher, she spent 30 years running a medical supply company with her husband. She was skilled, whipsmart, and incredibly competent. She would certainly not approve of any part of this paragraph. (“Who would care about that? It’s boring.”)
OGM was the funnest person I’ve ever known.
She would spontaneously break out into song or dance. She was easily directable in skits. She was the mascot of my friends. She came on vacations with groups of people 1/3 her age on the regular.
She spent her 70s the way most people might spend their 20s: living dorm-style next to her boyfriend in an apartment complex. John brought her a peeled orange and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette every morning, and hung them in a bag on her doorknob.
Her grandson Cristian was her kindred spirit. Her granddaughter Natalie shared her love of art and design.
OGM was athletic and a cool cat. She fenced at Vassar, and also played pool and smoked (“we all smoked in our 20s, honey.”). She gave great advice but low key. She made an amazing liver pâté, plum kuchen, and bolognese sauce. (“Honey, that sounds pretentious – it’s spaghetti sauce.”)
Despite being a goyim, she handled all the Jewish holiday presentations at our elementary school.
When COVID hit, OGM found herself trapped in the most dangerous of places: an old folks home. She passed the first days of quarantine writing a haiku each day, and my friends wrote haikus back to her. By the end of the pandemic lockdown, months later, she had lost the ability to write, email, and use a phone.
And eventually she lost her words – all of them.
My mother, the strongest, funnest person I’ve ever known, died on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
OGM is survived by her daughters Nina Borromeo (Carl) and Margot Roth (Andy McCown); grandchildren Cristian and Natalie Borromeo; and many extended family and friends. She was preceded in death by her husband Chuck; siblings Ruth and Sonny; best friends Reva and Martha; a long lineage of dachshunds, and one collie.
The family thanks the many skilled and loving caregivers who became friends to OGM over the past few years: Donna, Kaylyn, Lori, and Carina, and the floor staff at Wingate.