Grace E. Newman, beloved Chicago teacher, wife, mother and grandmother who lived most of her life in Chicago, peacefully passed away on March 10, 2021.
Grace was born to Hungarian immigrant parents in Detroit on May 2, 1927. Forced to teach herself English, Grace’s hardscrabble mother Margaret obediently took her two little girls to the library twice weekly. There Grace escaped poverty by indulging in books that took her to other parts of the world, where food was in abundance and she could dream of a more successful life.
She saved enough money as a teenager working at a scrapyard to pay her way to college, successfully completing her first few years at nearby Wayne State University and transferring to the University of Michigan, earning a degree in education. She came to Chicago in 1953, and was working full-time as an elementary school teacher when she met her husband Sol “Bud” Newman, an accountant, at Hillel on the University of Chicago campus.
Always curious, always with a book at her side, no friend or stranger wasn’t touched by her spunk, her advocacy for a good cause, or her interrogation of their life; she spared no one a well of questions, whether a temple member at her beloved KAM Isaiah Israel, where she was an ambassador for new families, a neighbor down the street, a stranger on the commuter train downtown, or the friends of her son Kenneth or daughter Lisa. Neighborhood kids came over daily for snacks; there were always snacks at the Newman kitchen table.
Practical, wise and creative, she would save cereal boxes and other paper goods so that when her granddaughter Eliana “Elli” Rosenthal was about 4 years old and visited from Washington DC, they could pretend to be at the store and pack bags of groceries. Grace also found two lightweight doll suitcases from her daughter’s childhood, and she would walk up and down the 3-story stairs with her granddaughter pretending to visit relatives in different cities by way of train.
When her children were little, she thought it ridiculous to get dressed for a snowstorm just to buy cigarettes and quit cold turkey; she was one of the first consumers to switch from whole milk to 2% after she attended a lecture by a scientist and neighbor at the University of Chicago. She soon began following nutrition and health tips well before they became trends.
She survived a tough childhood, including a bout with scarlet fever. Most of her mother’s extended family were still in Europe in the 1940s and were murdered in the Holocaust; only two surviving cousins escaped the brutality of Auschwitz and WWII, and she loved being in touch with their surviving children in Israel.
At the age of 67, she enrolled as a social work student at Loyola University, continuing her studies even after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and later breaking a wrist. She persisted and earned her MSW degree at the age of 72. Grace was resilient and since the year 2000, pushed through pain and recovery from a broken neck, a broken hip, and four falls serious enough to go through rehab at Montgomery Place independent living in Hyde Park, where she and her husband of 65 years eventually moved from their Hyde Park townhouse on Park Place.
At the nonprofit Montgomery Place across from Lake Michigan, she made new friends and felt as if she were “living at a resort.” She was empathic but pragmatic, one day telling her daughter on the telephone, when Lisa worried that her own daughter’s new stepmom was supplying her with markers and dolls, “What would you want, that her new stepmother would be more like Cinderella’s?” That was advice Lisa took to heart when she became the stepmother of grown, lovely children when she remarried. Lisa’s husband Brian Shefferman gave Grace a new role as stepgrandmother to Ian and Haley Shefferman, whom she cherished.
Grace became ill on March 5, from a fall as well as accumulated chronic heart issues, and needed hospitalization. After several days, her lead pulmonologist at the University of Chicago critical care and ICU, Dr. Ayodeji Adegunsoye, made sure immediate family at her bedside understood that if she expressed a desire to discard an uncomfortable plastic mask meant to decrease CO2 levels, there might be 30 to 40 minutes when her mind would be sharp, and time would be fleeting.
After Dr. Adegunsoye delicately explained the options — which fluctuated from terrible to worse — Grace clearly stated her wishes to discard the mask. Her husband, daughter and son were able to speak with Grace, and her niece and stepdaughter also arrived quickly. Late that night, Grace peacefully passed away on Wednesday, March 10.
Grace had a deep moral compass. You are welcome to honor her memory by donating to the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents indigent defendants and is based in Alabama; the organization Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, in Washington DC, which provides books to prisoners in and around metropolitan Washington, in addition to providing mentors to guide them to have a second chance upon release; or give to her beloved synagogue, which will designate funds toward social justice activities. The private funeral was held this past Sunday; a recording can be streamed at www.chicagojewishfunerals.com.
Zoom shiva is by invitation. Please contact the family.