Elizabeth Mitchell Montgomery Blyn
August 13, 1928-March 12, 2021
Elizabeth Mitchell Montgomery was born August 13, 1928 in Topsfield, Massachusetts, the fourth child of Ulster-Scots parents from Northern Ireland and the farms of County Armagh. Sarah Mitchell had left for Belfast to work in the linen factories before boarding an immigrant ship to Boston from the port of Londonderry. Joseph Montgomery had done the same--sailing from Londonderry to the port of New York. She’d made her way to Wellesley, he to Brookline. She as a domestic and a dressmaker; he as a groom and then a chauffeur and a gardener.
Born at home in the chauffeur’s cottage on the Cummings estate, Elizabeth spent treasured summers in Topsfield; her father planted a Victory Garden, yearly they attended the Topsfield Fair. In the remainder of the year she was a Boston girl from the all-Irish triple-decker-householder neighborhood of Allston.
The youngest child and the baby of the family, her siblings belonged to the Greatest Generation, whilst she was one of the Silents.
Elizabeth, affectionately called Betty from the time of being a baby, attended a succession of classical institutions founded for the advancement of girls and young women of yesteryear. Firstly, the Girl’s High School, class of 1946, followed by the Katherine Gibbs School, and when eventually she left the security of Boston for New York City of the 1950’s--a city where she knew nobody--landed at the Markle Evangeline Residence for women on West 13th Street.
Having worked at first in Boston for the prestigious management consulting firm of Arthur D. Little, she next established herself as an Executive Secretary to the boss, at Cunningham & Walsh, an ad agency on Fifth Avenue in New York City in the soon to be ‘Mad Men’ era.
It is of course hard to be hidden when you’re a striking gamine of 5’11"-- an avant-garde woman donning a pixie haircut before it was done, by Jean Seberg and others, she was the first one.
The accompanying photograph is one in the œuvre of Atelier Von Behr, the renowned German-born West Village-based photographer whose work is represented in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London--and she loved it.
What prompted Elizabeth to walk those blocks to Julius’ on West 10th with her roommate Kay one evening in 1953?
Donald Henry Blyn had not been back for very long from the war in Korea on the night their lives would change forever. He went to Julius’ with a fellow serviceman, a childhood friend also from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He saw her at the bar and thought she was a star. Who was this striking Viking, the Artemis goddess with an electrifying smile and lightest of blue eyes--the same shade as distant relation Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery--she, Elizabeth Montgomery, with a face as pale as the Goddess’ of the moon. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine,” said Humphrey Bogart about Ingrid Bergman at Rick’s Café in Casablanca--and so said him, Donald Blyn— “she walked into mine.” It was Julius’, it wasn’t the White Horse Tavern, but soon enough, it was.
While the evening is shrouded in mystery, we have the love letter he addressed her forever. And then they were wed, at the First Presbyterian Church on lower Fifth Avenue, New York City, the 24th of May 1957.
These were the idyllic early days of their marriage, centered upon the lively artistic scene of 1950’s Greenwich Village, living in a West 11th Street railroad flat in the vicinity of Washington Square Park, where still she could walk the dog a lot in safety at all hours of the day and night; weekend getaways, revelries with friends and dinner companions; when it seemed the freedom of coupledom--and to be free from the coming of children--could last forever.
Earlier on while Don was attending law school, she was typing his briefs at night, and he was bragging that she earned more than he did. Having established a partnership from the dawning days of a relationship of many decades, they would labor together to build a business empire, before there even was one in sight. She had always been a quiet source of so many astute business decisions; and then eventually they invested the fruits of their labors in the next generations.
Reluctantly they left the excitement of life in New York City, and pioneered their way to Long Island, to write the chapter of life with family--David and ‘Jenny.’
She’d always sewn her daughter’s school dresses from Butterick patterns with a Singer sewing machine, and Janet was a best-dressed kindergartener with her pink gingham, etc., dresses and Peter Pan collars. Elizabeth the attentive mother would regularly read to her children at bedtime, the best method to teach literacy and a lifelong appreciation of books and the flights of fancy or of imagination they took us to, in a house always full of books. Traveling by train on trips into New York City, to see “The Sound of Music,” or “Mary Poppins,” on movie palace screens, opening new worlds for Janet to magically dream about and experience in a wondrously creative future one day.
She had tailored her invaluable secretarial skills to her son’s Boy Scout troop 214, of Rockville Centre, New York, and watched with a mother lion's pride as he followed in his father’s footsteps and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.
She’d placed her children in integrated nursery school and church camps during a time of racial strife in America. She was a woman of faith, whose father had been Presbyterian, her mother Church of Ireland, the family in Massachusetts Congregationalist, Elizabeth was then Presbyterian in New York, and back to being Congregationalist in Connecticut. When, as well as Stuart, FL, she settled in Roxbury, CT, having had a love affair with Greenwich Village and New York City, with formative family years somewhat endured on Long Island--she’d finally returned to her New Englander born and bred identity.
She'd crossed the country adventurously with her husband’s flight club and flew to China, Thailand and Hong Kong to meet her son on a fellowship from Trinity College, enjoyed Portugal and Madeira with Don, made a pilgrimage to England and more importantly, Ireland, with Jenny.
Fervently she'd followed the Yankees as she had the Mets--ardent lifelong baseball fan that she was. She had been on hand at the National League pennant win in 1973, and in the stands at the final game of the 1986 World Series, as she had in her teenaged days at Fenway Park, cheering on Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox.
She’d prepared meals all summer long in the tight kitchen gallies of her husband’s succession of boats on what should have been her summer vacations, but she good-naturedly went along on our voyages as a member of the crew and the Captain’s First Mate.
With her husband, she’d contributed to the building of Roxbury’s Minor Memorial Library, provided the funding for air conditioning to the Roxbury Congregationalist Church, volunteered at the Southbury Training School Thrift Shop, and many other philanthropic endeavors, often involving animals and children’s hospitals.
She was a self-educated chef, who’d clipped recipes from The New York Times and subscribed to Bon Appétit. Her father had been a farmer in Ireland, flower and vegetable gardener in New England and now her son, perhaps inspired by the grandfather he never knew, had founded Riverbank Farm, the successful organic vegetable farm run by David and his wife Laura in Roxbury. She sat pride of place at market tables, encouraging customers to try bok choy.
Through an invisible umbilical cord she would know if her child was in trouble - if for instance lost - on a land trust after dusk...
Elizabeth embodied an existential courage. For more than twelve years, as the result of successive strokes, she had lived inhibited with a limited ability to speak. If you'd listened you were gifted with the information given in the squeeze of a dainty, lady-like hand, a simple yes or a no, a succinct sentence, or a paragraph unexpected. You’d become a master or a mistress of the subtleties--which would be missed if you’d dismissed her eloquent wordlessness. With little words, and absent the disguises behind wordiness, there was nothing she couldn’t say other than what really mattered anyway. She remained a woman of joy in the beauty and the expanse of each moment. Relationships, interpersonal connections, were all that mattered; her connection held all the meaning; it was not in things, it was in human beings. She'd expressed simple gratitude towards her caregivers--kissed the hands that fed her, washed her, dressed her. In the twilight of her life, she'd applauded and adored watching her granddaughter Stella’s dancing, her own blue eyes matching those of the family matriarch.
Her final, monumental tribulation arrived at the bedside of her beloved husband who lay dying. He called her to him and they held each other’s hands as they had for more than sixty-seven years, as the photos had shown them in marital bliss sixty-three years before, and now there were images in their final days and final hours; in the shadows of her face etched with the silence of her quiet grief, the grace when she bore it all with courage, bravery and radiance--leaving in her own death an inspiration to her children--an example which shall never be effaced. To see her as a widow was impossible--and she’d shortened that passage with a breathtaking brevity--two months to the very day of the loss of her husband.
-- as composed by her daughter from her mother’s empty chair, from where she is off to somewhere--where she is at once understood, and thought is a substitute for our own cumbersome words.
Elizabeth is predeceased by her father, Joseph Montgomery, her mother, Sarah Reilly Mitchell Montgomery, siblings: Joseph Alexander Montgomery, ( Margaret ) Jane White, Edith H. Chaille, Ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, ( MacDuff ) Duffy, and mostly, her devoted and beloved husband, Donald Henry Blyn.
She was a loving mother and grandmother, and is survived by her daughter Janet Mitchell ( called Jenny, later also, Genevieve ), son David Montgomery Blyn, daughter-in-law, Laura McKinney, and granddaughters Lily, Alice and Stella.
Gifts in her name may be made to an animal rescue group or the Roxbury Land Trust.
A joint memorial for Elizabeth and Donald Blyn will occur this summer.
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