Frances M. Lehman

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Frances Mecklenburger Lehman of Wilmette, Ill., and Chilmark died on Nov. 15, 2017, after a long illness. She was 98. Francie, as her family knew her, was born in Chicago on Sept. 8, 1919. Her father, Albert Mecklenburger, had emigrated to Chicago after graduating from gymnasium in Worms, in southwest Germany. Her mother, Erna, known as Mama, was born in Chicago to parents who had emigrated from the then Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1918, Albert and his father-in-law, Hugo Herz, formed the Felt Products Manufacturing Co., subsequently known as Fel-Pro, a manufacturer initially of felt washers and seals for Model T Fords and later of automotive gaskets and sealants.

In the summer of 1935, Frances sailed to Europe with her parents and her sister, Sylvia, on board the RMS Berengaria of the Cunard line. The family traveled through Germany and saw firsthand what life was like for Jews under the Nazi regime. After he made the arrangements at the U.S. consulate in Stuttgart, Albert brought his sister Frieda, whose husband had died fighting for the Kaiser, her three children, and several more distant cousins to the United States, and gave them jobs at Felt Products.

In 1936, Frances graduated from Sullivan High School in Chicago as the salutatorian, and then matriculated at Northwestern University. She spent her sophomore year in Madison at the University of Wisconsin, where she met a boy from New York named Elliot Lehman. At a Valentine’s Day dance in 1938, she got “pinned.” Frances returned to Northwestern, where in 1940 she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with a degree in economics. Frances and Elliot were married at her parents’ apartment in Chicago on Sept. 28, 1940. In 1941, she earned an M.B.A. in retail management at New York University. She was the only woman in her class. After graduating, she held positions at the New York Federal Reserve and at Saks Fifth Avenue.

When Elliot enlisted in the Navy, Frances followed him to his training in San Francisco and Miami, then lived with her parents and infant son in Chicago while Elliot served in the South Pacific. After the war, Elliot resumed his career at Felt Products, and in the late 1940s, the family moved to Highland Park, Ill., where they lived for almost four decades.

Like so many women of her generation, Frances built her life around community and family. To her work as a volunteer she brought elegance, attention to detail, and exactingly high standards. She was active in the League of Women Voters, and served on the board of Highland Park Hospital and as the only woman on what is now the North Shore School District 112 board. Starting in 1969, Frances served for decades as president of the New Prospect Foundation, a small family foundation devoted to grassroots social change; at an event for school reform in the mid-1980s, she met a community organizer from the South Side named Barack Obama. In 2003, the Northwestern Alumni Association honored Frances with its Alumni Merit Award.

Frances always had a sense of style. She dressed impeccably, and drove a succession of sports cars not typically associated with white-haired grandmothers, including a Chevy Camaro. And when asked at a restaurant if she wanted her steak cooked well-done, she would reply that she liked it rare.

Frances and Elliot first came to Martha’s Vineyard in 1963, for a week at the Harbor Side in Edgartown. Starting in 1965, they stayed in Chilmark, where Frances spent at least part of 50 summers. In 1976, the Lehmans moved into the house that they had built on Prospect Hill, furnished in the mid-century modern style that Frances loved. She and Elliot treasured their time on the Vineyard, with tennis in the morning, the beach in the afternoon, and visits with friends in the evening. Frances last visited the island in 2016. She made it to Lucy Vincent Beach and dipped her toes into the water. On her final night on Prospect Hill, she enjoyed swordfish prepared just the way she had taught: marinated for a few minutes in lemon juice, then grilled over a hot fire, with a dab of Hellman’s to keep the fish moist, and lots of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.

Elliot died in 2016. He and Frances had been married for 75 years and 8 months. Frances is survived by three children, Kenneth Lehman (Lucy Lehman) of Evanston, Ill., Kay Lehman Schlozman (Stanley Schlozman) of Brookline and Chilmark, and Paul Lehman (Ronna Stamm) of Evanston, Ill.; eight grandchildren, Betsy Lehman of Evanston, Ill., Amy Lehman (Michele Rugani) of Chicago, Ill., Peter Lehman (Mary Liz Lehman) of Chicago, Ill., Daniel Schlozman of Baltimore, Md., and Chilmark, Julia Schlozman of Philadelphia, Pa., and Chilmark, Jonathan Lehman (Zachary Huelsing) of Chicago, Ill., Michael Lehman of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Elizabeth Lehman (Kathleen Moody) of Austin, Texas; and seven great-grandchildren, Benjamin, Charles, and Audrey Levisay of Evanston, Ill., Maxwell Lehman of Chicago, Ill., and Madeleine, Molly, and Finn Lehman of Chicago, Ill.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Frances’s memory may be made to Planned Parenthood of Illinois, 18 S. Michigan Ave., 6th floor; Chicago, IL 60603; to the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, 150 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 600; Chicago, IL 60601; or to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, 111 Edgartown Rd.; Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.