Obituary : Rita M. Barrows
Rita Merlet Barrows died on January 23 at Long Hill in Edgartown. She was 92. Rita was the daughter of Ernest Henri Merlet and Philomene Chevalier Merlet. Rita grew up in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from St. Joseph College in Hartford, class of 1939. In 1942 she was married to Richard Edward Barrows and they were lovingly together until his death in 1974. They raised one daughter, Philisse Marie.
When Rita was 17 her sister, Therese, was born to their 41-year-old mother. In 1934, medical knowledge was such that their father had been sent home without the baby and told it would be better to let the baby go as she was weak and his wife would not be strong enough to care for her. Rita, outraged, sent him right back to get the baby. For the next year Rita was really the mom for Therese. Eventually both Therese and their mother recovered but that year made a very strong life-long loving bond between Rita and her sister.
At St. Joseph College, Rita was named "most individual in a class of individuals." Money was tight, so Rita lived at home and learned how to sew all her clothes. She developed a particular dress style, which became known as the "Rita dirndl" and was much admired by the other girls. Rita honed her sewing abilities over the years and later made many mother-daughter look-a-like outfits for herself and her daughter.
Rita was a teacher for 20 years, of French and Latin, at Long Lots Jr. High School in Westport, Conn. While at Long Lots Rita was one of the first teachers to work with the Dictaphone Company in exploring the feasibility of establishing an electronic classroom. The Dictaphone executives and engineers created a language lab classroom to the specifications set out by Rita. She wrote the technical booklet to go along with the lab and was featured on a morning television show introducing this new educational method.
After retiring from teaching she pursued a variety of employment opportunities. Among them: working in advertising for the Westport Country Playhouse, the Greenwich Dinner theatre, and a local radio station in Westport, Conn. She was also a newspaper correspondent in Somers, Conn., a medical librarian for the Stafford Memorial Hospital in Connecticut, and a sales representative for a housing development in Ocala, Fla. Rita was also a docent for the Appleton Museum in Ocala.
After leaving Westport, Rita lived in northern Connecticut; Oakland, Calif.; Pittsburg, Calif.; Ocala, Fla.; and Vineyard Haven with her daughter, and for the last couple of years at Long Hill in Edgartown. One of Rita's favorite memories was of her move from California to Florida. She was in her 70s and drove a huge rental truck while wearing a large brimmed sun hat and accompanied by a large teddy bear in the passenger seat. She recalled receiving many friendly waves from passing truckers.
While living in California, a man named Tom Angel became her companion and they spent a few years enjoying extensive traveling until Tom's death in 1987. In Ocala, Rita's life was enriched by a new companion, Sydney Holtzman. They enjoyed dancing, cooking, and a great deal of laughter. After a heart attack in 2006, Rita moved to Martha's Vineyard but remained closely connected to Sydney until his death in 2008.
Rita was always quick to embrace new ideas and ways of living. At age 88, still in recovery from a heart attack, Rita was ready to make the trip from Florida to Martha's Vineyard into a grand adventure. She and Philisse rented a large RV and with the help of a friend, Connie Lewis, the three women took a meandering weeklong road trip - sometimes staying in the RV at night, sometimes in a hotel or cabin.
Rita's daily motto was "Carpe Diem." She truly lived it - welcoming each new morning with joy. At age 90, at Long Hill, she found a way to still feel useful in the world by tutoring a young Brazilian woman who was learning English.
Rita's smile lit up a room and made people wish to be with her. She never had a harsh word for anyone and never complained even after she no longer had any physical strength and was totally dependent on others. She touched many lives and will be greatly missed.
Rita is survived by her daughter, Philisse Barrows of Vineyard Haven, her granddaughter Agatha Kerr and Agatha's husband Chuck, great-granddaughter Anastasia Kerr, all of Schertz Texas; her sister Therese McMahon and her husband William of Falls Church, Va.; her nieces and nephews Diane (also her god-child) Keith, Denise, Mary, and Maureen; her step-grandchildren David, Kevin and Amy McKenzie; her step great-grandchildren Valia and Gwen, and many loving great nieces and nephews.
Rita's passing was in peace. Her daughter and their good friend, Elizabeth Sandland, were by her side and the Long Hill house cat, Kit, was snuggled up with her.
There will be a memorial on April 24 at Long Hill, at 2pm.
In lieu of flowers the family requests donations in her memory to Long Hill (P.O. Box 1183 Edgartown 02539), where Rita was treated with great love and full dignity throughout her last years; or to Hospice of M.V. (P.O. Box 2549 Oak Bluffs 02557) whose volunteers and staff were always supportive; or to the Unitarian-Universalist Society of M.V. (P.O. Box 1236 Vineyard Haven 02568) who gave continued support to both Rita and her daughter. Please visit ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.