Obituary: Lorraine Roth, who had deep ties to JP, dies

Lorraine Roth, who had deep ties to Jamaica Plain, died last month.
Courtesy Photo

Lorraine (Blake) Roth died on Aug. 20, surrounded by family in her beloved Pond Ave., Brookline home fronting the Emerald Necklace parkland near Jamaica Pond, where she took daily walks for more than 40 years, even when she needed two canes and someone to assist her in recent years. She was 93.

A memorial service will be held on Oct. 14.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, on Feb. 27, 1924 to Michael Blake, a New York City fireman originally from Ireland, and Lillian Heitmann, a young working woman from a German immigrant family, Lorraine remembered a happy childhood with her older brother, Robert, in Depression-era Brooklyn, teeming with immigrant families. She learned well her mother’s lessons of thrift, never leaving behind an uneaten roll in a restaurant breadbasket or passing up an opportunity to generate income for her family, even when more financially secure in later years.

Her mother scrimped to give her daughter dance and piano classes, and enrolled Robert and the 11-year-old Lorraine in the choir at Brooklyn Heights’ storied Plymouth Church (of Henry Ward Beecher fame), sparking Lorraine’s lifelong passion for classical and choral music. Well into her senior years, Lorraine remained active in Boston area choral groups and local folk dance circles, including at M.I.T. and the contra dances at First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian-Universalist.

Lorraine excelled at school, matriculating at Brooklyn College at age 15, and graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in science. During WW II, she worked at Merck laboratories, testing doses of the newly-developed wonder drug, penicillin, for use by the troops abroad. A Merck colleague gave Lorraine a work by Karl Marx, forever changing her life. She became an avowed Marxist, dedicating herself to a lifetime of supporting progressive causes for political, social, and economic change.

Lorraine worked in New York City for several years in the science laboratories of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. During a summer trip to Woods Hole, she met Jay S. Roth, a young biochemist working at the Marine Biological Laboratories (MBL). They married in 1951, and she soon became pregnant, leaving her promising career just as she was first published as an author of a scientific paper. She maintained her interest in science, particularly genetics and evolutionary biology, throughout her life, avidly corresponding with leading scientists on her theories.

Lorraine and Jay raised their family of four children in Storrs, CT, where Jay was a professor at the University of Connecticut. Lorraine was active in the anti-Vietnam war movement, often traveling great distances to make her voice heard. She also became involved in the women’s liberation movement.

Divorced in 1972, Lorraine moved to the Boston area. With her children mostly grown, she returned to work in laboratories and hospitals in Boston’s medical area, settled into the two-family house she bought in Brookline, and embarked on decades of activism on behalf of the causes she cared about.

In 1979, alarmed by the treatment of lab animals where she’d worked, Lorraine became a founding member of Citizens to End Animal Suffering in Experiments (CEASE), a Boston animal-rights organization that later changed its name to the Coalition to End Animal Suffering and Exploitation.

Seeking to advance animal rights and raise public awareness, Lorraine convinced a younger friend to don a hot furry bear costume and march with the CEASE banner in Jamaica Plain’s Wake Up the Earth parade. At CEASE’s 1980 World Day for Animals rally in Boston Common, speakers told the crowd about cosmetic testing on rabbits and urged repeal of Massachusetts’ pound seizure law that let researchers buy abandoned cats and dogs for experiments. In 1988, CEASE gathered enough signatures to get a proposed law on the ballot for farm animal rights. While it failed due to a vigorous opposition ad campaign, Lorraine lived to see her early vision pave the way for last November’s successful ballot initiative requiring humane farm standards for meat and eggs produced and sold in Massachusetts.

In the early 1990’s, Lorraine collaborated with musical theatre artist David Olson to co-write, direct, and perform in an original animal rights theatrical production, “Earthlings,” that received critical acclaim from animal rights enthusiasts at its debut at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium.

Lorraine burst into song whenever the spirit moved her, and it moved her often. She threw parties where guests brought guitars, played her piano and joined her in song. For three February birthday celebrations well into her senior years, she led sledding parties in the Emerald Necklace near her home, where hot cocoa and a birthday cake awaited the chilled revelers. Her love of singing and dance; beautiful smile, laugh and voice; her love and fierce defense of all animals; and her childlike joie de vivre will be remembered and missed by her family and friends.

She leaves her children, Diana Roth of Woods Hole, MA; Robert Roth of Norwood, CO; Katherine Roth Huse and her husband Daniel Huse of Sharon, MA; and Christopher Roth of Madison, NJ; grandchildren Samuel Huse of Somerville, MA, and Emma Huse of Brattleboro, VT; nephew Robert Blake, his wife Melody, and their children Tyler and Alina Blake; niece Judy Blake, and her children Alex and Zachary Silverman; and her many friends who loved her. Lorraine’s brother Robert Blake and former husband Jay Roth predeceased her.

A service of remembrance and celebration of Lorraine’s life will be led by her friend and former Community Church minister Rev. David Carl Olson on Saturday, Oct.14, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. at the Community Church of Boston, 565 Boylston St. with a reception to follow the service. Donations in lieu of flowers can be made in Lorraine’s memory to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) or MSPCA-Angell.



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