ROSEMARY O'CONNELL OFFNER

 

R


osemary O’Connell Offner
was born on July 15, 1931, in Fort Ticonderoga, New York, the second of five children of Maurice Daniel O’Connell and Leila Geraghty O’Connell of Pottersville, New York, who owned the Wells House. She went to the Emma Willard School for Girls and after graduating went on to Smith College where she majored in government, and led the Class of 1953 as president and in other capacities. She met Elliot Offner in the 1953 in NYC after she had completed a MFA in Education from Columbia and was teaching inner city children in New York. She and Elliot would marry and make their life in Northampton, and Nantucket, Massachusetts.

In her children’s eyes, Rosemary brought all good things into Elliot’s life: his children, his home, Nantucket, England and even (ironically) Smith College, which she urged him to join as an instructor. Though it paid less than the University of Massachusetts at the time, Smith was a more prestigious school, had a fabulous art department, and offered him more time for his own sculpture.

For someone, who had left the Catholic Church in her twenties and questioned organized religion and spiritual issues constantly, she had profound faith in people, strength and love that she fully and freely gave to her husband, her children, her extended family, and her friends throughout her life.

As lifelong friend Eleanor O’Neill said, “Rosie was small of stature and a tower of moral strength. She had a multitude of talents - as a loving wife to Elliot, as a devoted Mother and Grandmother to her family, as a loyal alumna to her alma mater, and as a wise and thoughtful supporter to her friends.”

“She had a very special gift for friendship. Her warmth was so endearing and we knew we could always depend on her high principles and clear insights. As a friend, her interest in your family was real and tender and she never failed to remember the little news you had told her months ago. Rosie cared deeply about her friends – and we are ever grateful for her grace and her generous love.”

While raising their three children, Helen, Dan and Emily, Rosemary continued to teach in the Northampton Public Schools as a substitute teacher, and ultimately became the associate director of the Smith College Alumnae Association from 1983 to 1991 and executive secretary of the Friends of the Smith College Libraries from 1991 to 1993.

Rosemary was Elliot’s quiet but profound partner in all things in his life artistically, academically, and personally.  According to him, she was the smartest woman he ever knew, and her refinement, intelligence, and intellect influenced him beyond measure. 

As public a personality and persona as was Elliot, Rosemary was private and intimate, but with deep and lasting friendships with people of all walks of life and from all phases of her life.  A common joke among some of her most dear friends from high school and college was that they had known her much longer than they had not known her. As Ann Mandel, one such friend, said recently, “Rosemary made and kept friends from Smith throughout the world. She will always be remembered for her spirit, her compassion, her intelligence, and her true gift for friendship. In the words of her dear friend and classmate Helen Bryan Smith, "Rosemary was a little body with a mighty heart.”

Rosemary was Elliot’s moral compass and emotional anchor. While he was the consummate New England professor in his bow ties and tweed and the sculptor in his artist’s smocks and berets, he was still an absent minded professor and artist, who lost his keys and had bouts of blue between shows, or when he did not get a commission, or got a lousy review.  Rosemary made sure that he always found his keys, kept him on even keel between exhibits and focused, and always reminded him that he was a fine artist not trying to win popularity contests with commissions or reviewers. 

In the words of their oldest child, Helen Ong, “It was not a surprise that Mom left us so quickly after Dad passed away. She spent one last summer alone on Nantucket, but that would be her last one. She never could bear to be apart from him.”