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Marilyn Murphy Meardon

July 22, 1930 May 24, 2020
Marilyn Murphy Meardon
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Obituary for Marilyn Murphy Meardon

Marilyn Murphy Meardon, actor, educator, and storyteller, passed away Sunday, May 24 in Providence, Rhode Island. She was 89 years old. Born in 1930 in Cincinnati, Ohio, she was the daughter of Lawrence Burnell and Aurelia Graesar Murphy. A graduate of Hughes High school, she went on the study at Carleton College in Minnesota, where she majored in history. Education was the focus of her graduate work at the University of Chicago, and she pursued Educational Theater at Northwestern University. Further studies brought her to England. An international traveler from a young age, as an exchange student she was introduced to many cultures through the Experiment In International Living, germinating a lifelong passion for exploring the world’s diversity.

With marriage (John Arnold Meardon) came a move to New England in 1962 (Massachusetts and Rhode Island) and a family that grew to four children. Educational and cultural exchanges continued, as she and her young family hosted students from Africa and France, and Alabama for studies. Lifelong bonds developed through these uniquely rewarding experiences.

Seeking direction when her marriage ended, she took an aptitude test, which revealed she would be a good gift shop proprietor. It was, after all, another era with different expectations for women! But her gifts were revealed in other ways as she continued to develop a keen interest in storytelling and educational theater. Beginning in the late 1960’s, she worked several years with Looking Glass Theatre, offering to school classrooms spellbinding and often raucous fully costumed folk tales of many cultures, always encouraging its young audiences to fully participate as characters in the production. For as long as she lived, people would stop to thank her for those memorable experiences.

The license plate on her car read STORY, and she was passionate storyteller through many mediums. She collaborated with area actors in the Sidewalk Storytellers, the Spellbinders Storytelling Collective, acted in productions at the Second Story Theater, and for decades was a fixture at Barker Playhouse in Providence as both actor and director.

A longtime partnership with storyteller Len Cabral resulted in educational theater performed in area schools.

Always nurturing youthful creativity, she taught the Young People’s School for the Performing Arts in Providence. She made multiple appearances at the Johnnycake Festival and made an annual pilgrimage to Jonesborough Tennessee to attend and perform at the National Storytelling Festival. An Actors’ Equity member, she played the role of an Irish mother in the motion picture “Monument Avenue.” For many years each March, she collaborated with musician Mary King to bring Irish folk tales and music together in “Celebrating Ireland.”

Marilyn adapted historical personages for performance in schools, libraries, and community groups, telling the stories of puritan spiritual leader Ann Hutchinson, Queen Elizabeth I, and lighthouse keeper Ida Lewis. An invitation by the Women’s Writers Project at Brown University led to role as Elizabeth Tudor. Using the Queen’s speeches, prayers, poetry, and letters, she created a performance that brought the Monarch’s words to life. Staying in character after a 45-minute monologue reflecting on her life as the Queen, she welcomed questions from her rapt audience, always at the ready with a quick retort to even the most obscure query.

Marilyn was a longtime member of the Unitarian Universalist church in Providence. She was deeply involved in their religious education program, and served as board president and on search committees. From early ages, her children experienced Star Island in the Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire, a Unitarian Universalist summer conference and retreat. Summer after summer, Marilyn also brought her boundless energy to teach creative dramatics to the island youth. On talent night, you could always count on her for a captivating and humorous storytelling experience. Her tennis game was fiercely competitive and vocal.

Evermoving, she was always a force, no less so in the realm of motherhood. She was a fierce protector and champion of her four children—no matter what, no matter where, no matter when—she was always there in body and spirit.

In 2015, Marilyn moved to an assisted living facility in Providence and subsequently to their memory care unit. Her daughter Allison did everything possible to keep her engaged, no matter how small her world became. She added immeasurably to her quality of life. Although her memory diminished and her circle narrowed, many ways of communication were still possible. Music, poetry, and inside family jokes were good bridges. MMM never lost her sense of humor or her sense of self.

She was predeceased by her parents, a brother, William H. Murphy, and companion Robert C. Frederiksen, who shared her passion for theater and travel adventures.

She is remembered with love and gratitude by her three daughters, Kathleen of Ft. Myers, FL, Allison of Cranston, RI, and Sarah Burnell of Seattle, WA a son, David (Diane St. Pierre) of Sanibel, FL, a granddaughter, Elizabeth Aurelia, niece Leila Mae Murphy, nephews Eddie and Tim Murphy, eight grandnieces and nephews and a community who will no doubt remember the tales she told, and her story.

Found amidst a myriad of texts, papers, and books in her Rhode Island Avenue home was an index card titled “Joy—Carl Sandburg.” In her signature magic marker, she had written the first stanza of the poem:

Let a joy keep you
Reach out your hands
And take it when it runs by.

The second stanza was her own creation:

Breath, life, sunshine, color
Movement, music, magic, joy!

Marilyn Murphy Meardon—Mom—we thank you for all of that.

A celebration of her life will be held in the future in a safer time and place to be determined.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to RI Council for the Humanities or Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital

To send flowers or plant a tree in memory of Marilyn Murphy Meardon, visit the Tribute Store.

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