Obituary: Nancy Waldman
Grandmother, 60-year Claremont resident, die hard Democrat, librarian
Nancy Waldman, a Claremont resident since 1963, died peacefully in her sleep February 14 at Mt. San Antonio Gardens. She was 98.
Nancy Lee Robinson, the only child of Katherine and John Robinson, was born September 1, 1924, in Oakland, California. In 1927, the family moved to Flushing, New York, where her father pursued a career in the insurance business. Within weeks of their arrival she watched Charles Lindbergh’s famous trans-Atlantic flight to Paris pass overhead while perched on her father’s shoulders.
In 1932, young Nancy and her parents moved to the Long Island community of Manhasset, a hamlet settled by the Dutch in the 1600s. They lived in a spacious, Colonial-style home located in a development called Munsey Park. Their particular unit had been built on “spec” by a developer who was eager to unload it during the Great Depression.
It was a wonderful area for children to explore, roam, and play red rover, capture the flag, and softball. She became an excellent softball player, and recalled an older boy named Charlie Stevens would organize neighborhood games, boys and girls together. He showed the kids such skills as how to stand at the plate and where to position the bat. Years later, she was profoundly saddened to learn that Charlie was killed in a bombing run over Germany.
Her best friend in her early grade school years was a boy named Happy Rollins. She and “Hap” invented a game called “Buck Rogers in the 25th century,” riding space ships and using zap guns to ward off evil forces.
Around the same time she began her lifelong love of cinema. Her parents or Hap’s would drop the pair off at the local movie palace, where they would watch triple features consisting of newsreels, short comic sketches, and coming attractions, plus the occasional live stage show.
During her youth she attended Sunday school at Christ Church, Episcopal. She was confirmed as a member of the church at age 13, and baptized the following summer, at St. Paul’s Church in Oakland, California. In her later years she attended services with the Quaker Friends community in Claremont.
After a brief flirtation with the New York Yankees, which she preferred to forget, she became a New York Giants fan in the mid-1930s, when the team featured such stars as Carl Hubbell and Bill Terry. She stuck with the Giants the rest of her life, even after the team moved to San Francisco. In 2010, 2012, and 2014, her loyalty was rewarded with three World Series championships.
In her early teen years she developed what would turn into a unwavering passion for politics, even when events didn’t go her way. She became a staunch Democrat, despite the fact that her parents were die-hard Republicans. Although she lived in comfortable circumstances, she fervently believed in FDR’s New Deal and its commitment to economic justice. She was similarly devoted to the civil rights movement. In the early 1960s, she joined the Congress of Racial Equality.
In 1941, at the age of 16, she enrolled at Swarthmore College, where she majored in political science. She graduated in 1945, and after working for two years, headed back to the West Coast to pursue an international relations degree at the University of California, Berkeley. It was there that she met Theodore Waldman, a doctoral candidate in philosophy from St. Louis, Missouri.
They were married May 19, 1950, at the famous Claremont Hotel in the Berkeley hills. She went on to earn her Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree at Cal. During the early 1950s, she worked as a librarian at Berkeley and then the University of Michigan, where her husband taught in 1954-55. In 1955-56, her husband took a teaching position at the University of Iowa. During the ensuing five years, she gave birth to her three children: Tom (1956), John (1958) and Katy (1961). She continued to work part-time as a reference librarian throughout much of this period.
In 1961, Mr. Waldman took a teaching position at Arizona State University, and the family spent the next two years in Tempe. Two years later, the summer of 1963, he accepted a job at Harvey Mudd College, where he remained for the rest of his career, retiring in 1991.
The family lived in rental homes until December 1965, when they bought a residence at the southeast corner of 12thStreet and College Avenue where the poet T.S. Eliot had lived for a summer during the early part of the century. They purchased the home from Mrs. Miller, who had a spectacular if brief singing career in the mid-1960s, including a famous appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
She spent the decade raising her three children while also paying close attention to the dynamic cultural and political scene. She supported the free speech movement at Berkeley in 1964, attended an anti-war potluck and auction at a private home in Claremont in the summer of 1967, and was an enthusiastic supporter of Eugene McCarthy’s presidential bid in 1968. In October 1969 the entire Waldman family was present for the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam event held at the Pomona College football field.
Always a lover of classical music and opera, in the 1960s and ‘70s she added Abba, the Beatles, Elton John, the Mamas and the Papas, and Simon and Garfunkel to her personal playlist.
In 1967 the family moved to Berkeley, where her husband spent two years teaching at an experimental college affiliated with the university. They experienced firsthand some of the most significant events of the decade, including busing to achieve racial integration in the fall of 1968, and the eruption at People’s Park in May 1969. In 1967 and 1968, she took government classes at Cal, a returning student in her early 40s sharing space with youthful adherents of the new left and emergent counterculture.
Asked about that experience decades later, she said she was disgusted that her classmates were contemptuous of the generation of leftists who came of age in the 1930s and 1940s.
When her kids got a little bit older and less dependent she earned a master’s degree in government from Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University) in 1970. She wrote her thesis on a creaky, old typewriter that she set up on a small card table in a corner of her bedroom.
In 1972 the family spent six months in London on sabbatical. She loved the theater scene, architecture, art galleries and museums, classical concerts, BBC One and BBC Two, and public transportation, especially the (then) inexpensive subway system. The couple returned to London in the spring of 1985 for a four-month stay.
In early 1971 she returned to her interrupted librarian career, taking a part-time job in the Honnold Library reference and later documents department.
The next year, after returning from England, she was hired by the Pomona Public Library, where she remained for 13 years. She loved the job, especially overseeing the volunteer program, working with young people from the immediate community.
In the fall of 1985 she took a position at Harvey Mudd College’s Sprague Library. She worked at Sprague for a decade, retiring in 1995 at the age of 70.
In December 2005, Mr. Waldman died from heart failure. She remained in the family home for nearly two and-a-half years. Scripps College purchased the residence within a week of it being placed on the market.
In the fall of 2008 she moved into Mt. San Antonio Gardens, where she thrived. She regularly went to the movies with other residents or her son, Tom, and she also frequented the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater. Whenever her children or grandchildren visited, they were amazed that she appeared to know everyone by name, including staff members, with whom she frequently discussed the prospects of the Angels, Dodgers, and, of course, the Giants.
Starting in 2019, at the age of 94, her health began to slowly decline, Like so many other seniors around the world, she found it difficult to cope with the social isolation brought on by the Covid pandemic. She always had a tremendous facility for everyday conversation, and throughout her life she was admired and adored by acquaintances, caregivers, colleagues, friends, and more.
With the easing of Covid restrictions, she was again treated to visits from her children and grandchildren. She was characteristically charming, funny, and attentive right up to the end.
She is survived by her children, Tom, John, and Katy; grandchildren Zachary, Louis, Ethan, and Melina; daughter-in-law Elizabeth and daughter-in-law Rebecca; son-in-law Michael; plus numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 25 at Mt. San Antonio Gardens. In lieu of flowers the family suggests making a donation in her memory to either The Nature Conservancy at nature.org/en-us, or Doctors Without Borders at doctorswithoutborders.org.