Life-long educator Meredith Jane Aldrich, founder of Children’s Hours School in Geneva, N.Y., and former Principal of Pelham School in western Massachusetts, died peacefully of lung cancer on August 23 at her home in West Tisbury, surrounded, as she wished, by those she loved. She was in hospice care with Island Hospice.
Daughter of Merritt James Aldrich, a Boston attorney, and Edith Carolyn (Borrebach) Aldrich, Ms. Aldrich attended Walnut Hill School and Sweet Briar College, graduating at the top of her class at both institutions.
She obtained Woodrow Wilson and National Defense Education Act fellowships to study at Harvard University, where she earned a Master’s degree in Romance Languages and Literatures. At Harvard she met her future husband, Dunbar Moodie, and eventually settled with him in South Africa. The couple lived in Durban and Johannesburg, where Ms. Aldrich taught at the elementary school, high school, and university levels. In Durban, she set up her own multi-racial pre-primary school. During this period, she also gave birth to three children and enrolled for a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology, which she obtained in 1978 from the University of the Witwatersrand.
In 1976, the family moved to Geneva, N.Y., where Mr. Moodie was appointed Professor of Sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Within a year, she had realized her vision of a school for small children based on the educational principles of Maria Montessori, supplemented and enriched with programs in the fine and performing arts. At one point Children’s Hours School had 120 students and went up through fourth grade. The school, which was taken over by a teachers’ cooperative in 1986, continues to thrive.
Meanwhile, Ms. Aldrich had received New York State Teacher Certification through the Department of Education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and enrolled for a PhD in Developmental Psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand. She obtained that degree in 1989. While writing the dissertation, between 1985 and 1989, she resided on the Island. During this period she was active in the League of Women Voters on Martha’s Vineyard, where she was Action/Legislation Chair and a delegate to national and state conventions.
She also served on the board of the Chilmark Chamber Players and was a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Chapter of the NAACP. In 1990, she obtained a Certificate in Advanced Study (with principal certification) from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
From 1990 to 1994, Ms. Aldrich was Principal of Pelham School in the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District. During 1992-3 she served as a Massachusetts Fellow in the Educational Policy Fellowship Program of the Institute for Education and Leadership, traveling frequently to seminars and workshops in many regions of the United States. On sabbatical in 1995, she was a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University.
In 1996, Ms. Aldrich retired to Geneva, where she established warm and nurturing relationships with many students from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, organizing an open house for tea on weekday afternoons. She audited classes at the Colleges, sang in the Colleges’ Community Chorus and was often seen at musical events. In keeping with her dedication to community service, she now became involved with the Geneva League of Woman Voters where she was Director of Voter Services. For many years, she was responsible for organizing candidate debates.
In 2006, she returned part-time to teaching at Children’s Hours School where she shared in awakening yet another generation of children to the excitement of learning.
Most people who knew her remember Meredith Aldrich as a thoughtful and often quietly witty person with a tremendous capacity for follow-through. She was a private person while deeply caring about others as well as wider public issues. She had an unpretentious and genuine ability to empathize with others and appreciate them for their emotional and intellectual gifts. Her loving way of being in the world enabled her to reach other persons at their very core, which is perhaps the reason children adored her. At the same time, she held others to her own high standards of commitment. As many generations of young people can testify, she had a way of reaching out to one’s best self, nurturing it and bringing it forth. Whether disciplining an errant child or comforting a grieving soul, there could be no doubt of her loving concern. She lived for others.
Ms. Aldrich is survived by her husband, T. Dunbar Moodie; her sister, Adriane de Savorgnani of London, U. K.; her brother, Merritt James Aldrich of Sequim, Wash.; her daughter, Mary Jane Aldrich-Moodie of Oak Bluffs; her sons, James Aldrich-Moodie of Rochester, N.Y., and Benjamin Moodie of Lewiston, Maine; and her three daughters-in-love, Christine Seidel, Sarah Jones, and Caroline Shaw, respectively. There will be a memorial service on the Island, followed by a small reception, on Sunday, December 26, at 2 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Society, 238 Main Street, Vineyard Haven. Donations in lieu of flowers may be sent to Island Hospice, 107 Beach Road, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.