The Clare Spark Blog

May 12, 2013

I Remember Mama: Betty Spark

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 5:43 pm
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Betty Spark ca.1930s

Betty Spark ca.1930s

Everyone probably has some gripe with her or his Mother, which we are supposed to put aside on Mother’s Day. So today, I am going to remember all the maternal accomplishments of my late mother Betty Spark, a.k.a. Betsy Ross, Rebecca Dorothy Rosen, and others I can’t remember.

My mother’s parents were both immigrants from somewhere in Eastern Europe. She named me after her beloved mother Clara Thumin, whose rabbinic family is shown here (at the bottom of the page).

Clara, who was fluent in seven languages, ran away from her family at age thirteen, I am told, to make her way in America. She met and married Louis Rosen, and together they ran a dry-goods store in Columbus, Ohio. From family stories, Clara was a premature anti-racist, as was my mother Betty.

Here is my mother at her most glamorous, taken probably in the 1930s, the decade when her mother died. She met my father the doctor in New York City shortly after her mother’s early death, and worked for the Republican National Committee under the nom de guerre of Betsy Ross. Later she became a social worker, an investigator of Harlem families who might or might not be eligible for welfare benefits.

My mother was not enthused about domesticity (though she was great at soups and gefilte fish, made from scratch), was even delinquent in many respects, but here is what she taught me anyway:

She taught me to read when I was five years old, and gave me such books as Bible stories for the very young; during one of my many childhood illnesses she brought me stories from the opera, so that to this day I remember reading the plots of such obscure operas as “The Daughter of the Regiment” or “Fra Diavolo.” We always listened to radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, then sponsored by Texaco,I believe; she taught me arithmetic; she taught me to swim; she taught me to love museums; she had graduated from Ohio State University in three years, so I graduated from Cornell in three and one half years, at which point (after I had taught tough kids science at Jamaica School for a semester) she advised me to apply for a fellowship at Harvard, where I met my future husband Ronald Marvin Loeb, father of my three children, including Daniel S. Loeb (Betty gets some of the credit for Dan’s drive and interest in investing). She was also sociable and fascinated by the lives of strangers, whom she might meet on a bus or anywhere.

But most of all, she taught me to stand up for myself, even when I was strongly on the Left (at least theoretically). I am thin-skinned, so she said “Now, Clare. People are going to attack you. Build a fence around yourself and defend your turf.” My mother was never anything but a capitalist, and yet she was proud of me, wherever I happened to be on the political spectrum. A strong woman herself, given to taking the microphone at shareholder meetings to complain about the lack of women on their boards of directors, she was the embodiment of unconditional love and an exemplar of strong convictions that were not to be hidden from any and all antagonists.

We should all have such mothers, mothers who insist that we be ourselves without losing interest in the lives of other people. She most strongly identified with her mother Clara Thumin’s illustrious Romanian family, said to be rabbis stretching back to the thirteenth century.  I proudly claim that lineage for myself, a secular Jew who reads closely and fights for universal literacy. Thanks forever, dearest Mother.

Thumin family

Thumin family


  1. […] any religion or ideology, though my mother often mentioned her pride in her rabbinic ancestors (see I had the impression that they must be liberals of some kind. Sadly, they are both deceased, and […]

    Pingback by “Father, dear father, come home with me now” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 15, 2013 @ 2:06 am | Reply

  2. That was lovely!

    Comment by Teri G. Frazier — May 13, 2013 @ 11:35 pm | Reply

  3. Nice story.

    Comment by David — May 13, 2013 @ 12:10 am | Reply

    • There are a few advantages in growing older: you see your parents whole, and hold on tight to the best parts of them.

      Comment by clarespark — May 13, 2013 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

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