Rosalyne S. Bernstein (1928-2018)
January 2, 2019 by Office of the President
To the Bowdoin community,
I write with the sad news that Trustee Emerita Rosalyne S. Bernstein H’97, P’77 passed away on Sunday, December 30, at her home in Portland, just eight days after her ninetieth birthday.
Roz was a remarkable person—a devoted wife and mother, courageous advocate, and someone who made substantial contributions to the law, education, health care, the arts, international understanding, philanthropy, expanding opportunities for women, and the Jewish community in Maine. Roz advised six Bowdoin presidents, including me. She was elected to Bowdoin’s Board of Overseers in 1973—one of the first two women to serve on that board. In 1981, she was the first woman elected to the Bowdoin Board of Trustees, and she remained actively engaged in the affairs of the College after becoming a trustee emerita in 1997.
Rosalyne Spindel was born on December 22, 1928, in the Bronx, New York, to Harry and Bertha (Lehrer) Spindel, both Jewish immigrants from Poland who came to the United States shortly after World War I and who met in New York. Her family moved to Fall River, Massachusetts, when Roz was thirteen, and she attended Durfee High School, where she was captain of the debate team and president of the debate club. She also worked at a part-time job six days a week throughout high school. Roz met her future husband, Sumner Bernstein, when she was beginning her sophomore year at Radcliffe College, and they were married at the end of her junior year. Sumner was practicing law in Portland, and as Roz put it, “I spent my senior year commuting, writing a thesis, and just getting my work done.” She graduated cum laude in 1950 with a major in economics, and the Bernsteins started a family in Portland and began a remarkable record of public service that continued unabated for the rest of their lives.
Thirty-three years after graduating from Radcliffe, Roz entered the University of Maine School of Law. She earned her JD degree in 1986.
The breadth and depth of her contributions to Maine, the region, and the country are remarkable. In addition to serving Bowdoin, Roz founded the Head Start program in the Portland school system, was a member and chair of the Portland School Committee, president of the PTA, a director of the Portland Boys Club, and president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. She was instrumental in the creation of the Reiche School in Portland, where more than half the students are from countries other than the United States. She chaired the Maine Health Care Finance Commission, wrote the Maine Legislative Report of the Health and Social Services Transition Team, and served as co-chair of the Transition Advisory Council for Maine Governor John Baldacci H’11. She was a trustee for more than forty years and a former president at the Portland Museum of Art, and a trustee for the Maine public broadcasting station, WCBB. She also served as a trustee of the Maine College of Art, the Maine Medical Center, Maine Mental Health Partners, Spring Harbor Hospital, the University of Maine School of Law, and the University of Southern Maine (where she also chaired the board of visitors), and she served for ten years on the New England Board of Higher Education. She was also the executive secretary and program director for the Maine Commission to Commemorate the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution (1986-1987).
Roz was a leader in Maine’s Jewish community. She served as president of the Southern Maine Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, as chair of the Jewish Federation of Southern Maine’s Community Relations Committee, as a member of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, and as honorary co-chair of the Congregation Bet Ha’am Capital Campaign. With her husband, she led efforts to ban discrimination based on race, religion, and ethnicity in Portland’s social clubs in the 1960s, and she served as a member of the Maine branch of the Anti-Defamation League and the World Affairs Council of Maine. The Rosalyne S. Bernstein Papers in the Judaica Collection of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at the University of Southern Maine give further abundant testimony to her activism and leadership. This past October, she and other members of the Bernstein family were honored by the Maine Jewish Museum as part of the first group of inductees in the Maine Jewish Hall of Fame.
Her community involvement was recognized by the Deborah Morton Award from Westbrook College, the Hannah Solomon Award from the National Council of Jewish Women, and the L. Kinvin Wroth Award from the University of Maine School of Law. At Bowdoin’s Commencement in 1997, she was awarded the honorary degree of doctor of laws, and in 2002 she was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Southern Maine.
At Bowdoin, the Harry Spindel Memorial Lecture Fund (1977) and the Bertha Spindel Library Book Fund (1990) celebrate the lives and spirit of Roz’s parents and their love of learning and Jewish culture. In 1995, Roz and Sumner established the Rosalyne and Sumner Bernstein Scholarship Fund for Bowdoin undergraduates. Her twenty-four years on the governing boards saw many changes under four presidents, including the transitions to a fully coeducational college and a unicameral system of governance, several fundraising campaigns, new buildings, curricular reform, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion among faculty and students.
Roz was predeceased by her husband, Sumner, in 2002. She is survived by a daughter, Beth Bernstein Schneider of London, England; a son, Andrew J. Bernstein ’77 of Bloomington, Illinois; and four grandchildren. There will be a service at Temple Bet Ha’am (81 Westbrook Street, South Portland) on Friday, January 4, at 10:00 a.m. Memorial gifts may be made to the Rosalyne and Sumner Bernstein Scholarship Fund, 4100 College Station, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME 04011-8432.
A champion of justice, Roz was devoted to public service, and through her wise counsel, her willingness to discuss tough issues, and her ability to lead by example, she leaves an enduring legacy at the College, in the State of Maine, and beyond. Julianne and I are deeply saddened by her passing, and all of us in the Bowdoin community join with her family and many friends in celebrating her remarkable spirit and a life that truly brightened this corner of the world.