My mother, Dr. Jill Linda Rubinson, died early Monday morning in view of her field, woods, and river, with the beautiful gardens she lovingly tended beneath her bedroom window. My mother was simply a great woman. She had a brilliant, analytical mind: after receiving her BA from Cornell and her PhD from Harvard in English, she taught British Literature at University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) for over thirty years and was honored as Professor Emeritus upon retirement. More importantly, she was devoted to social justice. She left her PhD program for over a decade to champion housing and education for low-income residents and immigrants in East Cambridge. Even in her final months of illness, she pursued ESL certification to help new Mainers. She chose UMA to teach because she wished to educate students who did not always have the easiest pathway to a degree – those with children, full-time jobs, or who savored learning later in life. And she was good at it. She repeatedly won awards for being a favorite professor. As I heard from many, even the students she graded poorly loved her.
Most importantly, she was a devoted friend, mother, grandmother, and steward of the natural world that surrounded her home: the flowers she nurtured and the vegetable garden that, for the last couple of years, she continued to plant and tend despite being unable to eat its fruits. Her reward was the joy of planting, nurturing, and sharing the bounty with her friends. Each summer, when her dock went in, she sent her friends an announcement that “Jill’s garden and spa” were open for the season’s enjoyment. Jill loved to swim, kayak, and simply talk with her friends, who were always welcomed in her home. For me, she offered everything she could. I was hesitant to become a mother because she gave me so much of herself. But I wanted the chance to have the same incredible connection to another person that she built with me. She was my best friend.
She is survived by most, and we all miss her desperately. The list includes but is by no means limited to me, Anny Fenton, her granddaughter, Fenton Saward, and my husband, Neil Saward; her brother, Richard Rubinson and his wife, Deborah Holtzman; her niece and nephews, Claude, Paul, Emily, Max and their families; her mother, Louise Sernoff; her partner, Dan; her ex-husband, David Fenton and his partner, Kathryn Olyniec; so many, many friends like the Cornellians and her Waterville area friends, many of whom were able to say goodbye to her; and, of course, her students, who I expect to spread my mother’s love for and the lessons of Austen, Shakespeare, and the English poets with others.