Pauline embraced kindness and exuded a seemingly limitless capacity for empathy – she despised human exploitation. She gave comfort, exercised patience, gentle humor and was a good listener. She was an intellectual giant who was totally unpuffed up about her own self. It was inspiring to see the ease with which she established new relationships. It was common to see her hauling a big guitar into work at hospice to soothe a dying patient or grieving family.
I came to know Pauline had been widowed four years earlier, and that she and her husband, Ed, a sociology professor, relocated to Springfield from the east coast about 30 years ago. They had no kids and most of their families remained back east. Pauline continued to live alone after Ed’s death in the same big old house they shared on Spring Street. I was later told Pauline had worn her hair waist-long most of her adult life, but cut it off when Ed was dying and never grew it long again.
Pauline’s initial college degree was in sociology from an eastern university, where she was also actively engaged in anti-Vietnam War politics. She studied music in earnest after moving to Springfield and became very proficient on acoustic guitar, piano, bass and drums. Honing her musical skills in both classical and jazz, she assembled her own band, played throughout Springfield and taught music at Little Flower School. Over time, she converted their garage into an attractive and fully functional music studio and acquired a wide tutelage of private music students, concentrating on classical guitar. Many went on to establish accomplished musical careers throughout the country. Over the past several years, Pauline played solo guitar at various venues, including special events and Christmas programs at the Dana-Thomas house.
The continued progression of Ed’s long-suffered COPD extracted a terrible toll, and he was bedridden a long time before he died. Continuous oxygen and breathing apparatus helped to extend his life, and Pauline installed a large generator to assure his life support not be disrupted by storms or electrical malfunction. She worked two jobs to maintain Ed at home until the very end.
As matters slowly settled down after Ed’s death, Pauline was advised by friends and professionals alike to sell her house and relocate into a more economically viable neighborhood. But she felt the need to remain in the house she had shared so long with Ed and was determined to undertake major rehab work where she was. I am unaware if Pauline engaged in local politics or joined committees, but she boldly reported drug activity and other crime to deter the decline of her neighborhood. She proceeded with extensive plans to restore natural woodwork, completely remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms and built an expansive sunroom onto the back of her house.
“Nancy,” she exclaimed, “I don’t care if I never recover the money I sink into this house to make it what I want, just because of a crappy neighborhood. I plan to live the rest of my life right here!” Pausing long moments, she added, “My Ed was frugal, sometimes too damn frugal. Didn’t like to spend money. At night I tell him stuff. He hears me. Might look like I’m talking to the walls, but I know he’s here.” Smiling, she asserted with a twinkle in her snappy brown eyes, “‘Oh, Ed,’ I tell him, ‘if you could see how I spent our money today!’” Outside, she did extensive landscaping with groundcover and flowers, preserved her magnificent backyard shade tree, installed a small fountain-pond with otter sculptures, all culminated by a delicate plaque commemorating this lush garden in honor of her beloved Ed.
Pauline’s own life was suddenly cut short in September of this year. She was murdered just inside the front door of her own house. Both her death and its senseless brutality shocked Springfield. As this news spread, former students, old friends and others called or traveled to Springfield, many gathering at the St. John’s Hospital Dove Conference Center on Oct. 3 to commemorate the wonder of Pauline’s life with speeches, tears and hugs, shared stories and memories, flowers and laughter – laced with lilting music from guitar strings of so many musicians she had mentored through the years.
To view photos and messages or to pay homage to Pauline, visit http://paulinecormier.org.