NORTHAMPTON – Rose “Arky” Markham died peacefully at home on June 11, 2018.
Rose Aisenberg was born June 21, 1915, in Worcester, the third of 4 children of Jewish immigrants who had escaped the poverty and pogroms of eastern Europe. Her big brother nicknamed her Arky, a moniker which stuck for over a hundred years.
She learned early the absolute value of education as she accompanied her mother to English night classes. She graduated high school and then joined the extended family’s business, Eastern Oil, in Worcester. But when war broke out, she did something unusual for a young Jewish girl: she joined the Women’s Army Corps to fight Hitler and was stationed on the west coast where she spent 2 years as an air traffic controller.
When the war ended, and the boys came home and took the jobs back, Arky decommissioned and took advantage of the GI bill to get first her bachelor’s degree in Spanish at Columbia University and then her master’s in social work at New York University. She used both in her work with some of New York’s most disadvantaged children, and then moved to the VA to care for veterans like herself.
She was in her 50s when she met George Markham, the love of her life. Famously, their first date was a Vietnam War protest. She had already been involved in protest against the Korean War, the McCarthyite murders of the Rosenbergs, and nuclear war, but she and George made a dynamic team.
Arky loved New York, but George was a Wisconsin farm boy and wanted to leave the City. The chance came when Arky landed a social work job at the Leeds VA Hospital. Prior to moving, either Betty or Herman Livwright (social activists in the Berkshires) warned George: “Don’t get hooked up with that Frances Crowe. She’ll put you to work.” As Arky quipped, “Well, I did, and she did.”
Arky became a regular volunteer at the Western Mass Office of the American Friends Service Committee and the fundraiser for the first and subsequent annual Martin Luther King Commemorations. She and George held signs against both Iraq Wars and the War in Afghanistan.
She was deeply involved in the anti-nuclear campaign of the 1980’s and out of this grew her co-founding of Social Workers for Peace and Justice with beloved friends Johanna Plaut and Mary Siano. She and George were active with Alice Swift in the progressive political fund CPPAX and increasingly focused on a walloping campaign for Single Payer Health Care. She co-founded Franklin/Hampshire Health Care Coalition which later helped to form Mass-Care, a state-wide group that continues that struggle.
She also was an original member of the Middle East Peace Coalition and for years was a regular “on the line” on Saturday mornings at the Northampton Committee to Stop the Sanctions, then Stop the War, then Stop Wars.
Near 90 when the planes hit the world trade center, she was a founder of the Northampton Bill of Rights Defense Committee in its effort to confront anti-terrorist repressive hysteria and oppose the USA PATRIOT Act.
Through all of this she gained and maintained friends who were attracted to her like moths to the front porchlight. She entertained with grace and asked us all about our lives and our families and was either delighted or concerned with the results. She was a great dancer, though, as she said, George had two left feet.
As George neared 100 and was in failing health Marty Nathan and Arky decided together to create a legacy for him and for Marty’s first husband, Mike, who had been killed in Greensboro in 1979. Two months after George’s death in 2009, the Markham-Nathan Fund for Social Justice, that living memorial, made its first grants. Since that time, it has given out nearly $200,000 to local organizations working against hate, racism, economic inequality, and war, all the things that Arky stood firmly against in her long lifetime.
Her large and solid group of friends consider themselves lucky. Their model, their long-time prime co-conspirator and beloved comrade working for all that is good in this world, lived to be almost 103. Failing memory and chronic lung disease plagued her last years, but she maintained her energy, her irreverence, her wickedly funny wit and her interest in those around her and a world gone awry. In her last days she was surrounded by her friends, her beloved eldest niece and her astonishingly capable and caring companion Daniel Kweku. She died peacefully at home on June 11.
She is predeceased by her parents Dina (Shapiro) and Maurice Aisenberg, her sisters Ann Silverman and Eve Metz, her brother Herbert (“Sonny” or “Bert”) Aisenberg, and her husband George. She leaves behind four nieces: Deena (Silverman) Madnick, Worcester, MA; Ruth (Silverman) Kanefsky, Tucson, AZ; Diane (Aisenberg) Westerman, Holden, MA; Eileen (Aisenberg) Smith, ME and FL; and one nephew, Henry Prettyman, Boca Raton, FL. Arky leaves grand nieces, including Pamela (Madnick) Pollan and Rebecca Smith, both in MA and great grand nieces, grand nephews and great grand nephews.And she leaves a community that is much the better for the gifts she gave us.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Markham-Nathan Fund for Social Justice, P.O. Box 943, Northampton, MA 01061, or www.markhamnathanfund.org.There will be an impromptu gathering for friends, family and community at the Lathrop Community Meeting House, Shallowbrook Drive, Northampton on Thursday, June 14 from 7 to 9 pm. Bring some food and memories of Arky to share. A memorial will be held at some later date to be determined.
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