Mary Rassias passes away at age 83
By Clifton Lyons And James Peng , The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, July 20, 2012
Mary Rassias, a beloved member of the Dartmouth and Upper Valley communities and the wife of French professor John Rassias, died on July 10 of natural causes, according to her daughter Helene Rassias-Miles. She was 83 years old.
She is remembered by many Dartmouth students and community members, who were often invited to her home for dinner, for her welcoming and gentle nature, according to Rassias-Miles.
“A lot of people adopted her as a second mother and her home as a second home,” she said.
Rassias was born in 1928 in Bridgeport, Conn. As the eldest of three sisters and two brothers, Rassias often looked after her younger siblings and even financed her brother’s preparatory school education, according to an obituary written by her husband.
In high school, Rassias served as editor of her school newspaper, and her love of writing led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Bridgeport. After college, Rassias worked as an executive secretary at the General Electric Company.
She married her life-long partner, John Rassias, in Paris in 1954, and she traveled with him across the world to Africa, China, Scandinavia and Turkey, according to the obituary. John Rassias is credited with the developing the Dartmouth’s Intensive Language Model and starting the College’s Language Study Abroad program. He serves as the director of the Rassias Center for World Languages and Culture at Dartmouth.
As a humanitarian, Rassias volunteered regularly at organizations such as the Upper Valley Haven, Habitat for Humanity, St. Francis Church, the Montshire Museum of Science and Meals on Wheels. Through her philanthropic work, she befriended many residents of the Upper Valley, Rassias-Miles said.
“All these people that had relationships with her spoke to me about acts of kindness that she had done for them,” she said. “That was just so heartwarming and made me very proud.”
Rassias often interacted with Dartmouth students whom her husband invited to their home for dinner. Rassias-Miles said Dartmouth students used to congregate around her parents’ “enormous” dining table.
“It would become a place for lots and lots of Dartmouth students to go over the years,” she said. “So many Dartmouth families became so close to our family.”
Tamara Smith ’94 said that John Rassias would invite students over who needed “extra compassion,” and Mary Rassias would help improve the students’ mood.
“She always made people feel, not only that they were welcome, but that they made her day better,” Smith said.
Smith also said Mary Rassias was always “extremely curious” about the lives of students she got to know.
“She was utterly gracious, utterly kind and extremely intelligent,” Smith said. “She wouldn’t just ask you what you were studying. She was always excited and interested about you, and she would ask thought-provoking questions. It was really fun to talk to her.”
Scribner Fauver ’82, who worked as a master teacher for the Rassias Center’s summer Accelerated Language Program, said he was also welcomed warmly by the Rassias family for dinner.
“[Mary Rassias] would be feeding people and being a mother to everyone,” he said. “She’s just a really open-hearted, warm, ‘mi casa, su casa’ kind of person.”
Jim Citron ’86, who works for the Rassias Center, said Mary Rassias was always interested and curious about his life.
“I had surgery a few years ago and didn’t even think she knew about it,” he said. “One day, I came out of the Norwich Farmer’s Market and saw her. She came up to me and said, ‘I’m praying for you.’”
Rassias often accompanied her husband on the College’s French Language Study Abroad program, where she would help make Dartmouth students “feel at home,” according to Rassias-Miles. Dick Mosenthal ’74, who attended an LSA program with Rassias, said she always welcomed students into her apartment.
“In France, her kitchen was always open,” he said. “It was the rendezvous point for us students.”
Ned Wolff ’68, who was a sophomore at the College when the Rassias family moved to the Upper Valley, said he and Warren Cooke ’68 were at the Rassias’ home the night before Mary Rassias died.
“We sat next to her, and she asked everything, about every family member that we had and she knew them all by name,” he said. “We had a wonderful time. It was a total shock to all of us to find out that was the last night of her life.”
Wolff also said that his wife, who just recently got to know Rassias, said she felt like she was Rassias’ daughter.
Over 200 guests attended Rassias’ funeral, which was held at St. Francis Church in Norwich, Vt. on Tuesday, Rassias-Miles said. French and Italian professor Keith Walker gave her eulogy.
“If you were blessed, her gentle hand touched you, your face, your hand, and you knew in that moment you had been touched by grace,” Walker said in the eulogy. “Mary Evanstock Rassias — today we salute you and thank you for your life, for through you we have known as much as we can know in this earthly life, of innocence, salvation and perfect love.”
Rassias is survived by her husband, their children — Rassias-Miles, Veronica Markwood ’87 and Dartmouth anesthesiology professor Athos Rassias Med’89 — and her nine grandchildren.