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WINIFRED L. MCPHEDRAN

READFIELD -- Winnie McPhedran died of breast cancer on 25 April 2013. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., 20 August 1928, the youngest of the three children of Joseph Anthony Libbon and Eva (Wanders) Libbon.

She grew up a child of the Great Depression. Her father was frequently out of work, and she remembered accompanying him on job searches. One time he introduced her to the black men working at a Savarin Coffee shop counter in New York, men with college degrees and doctorates but little hope of better employment because of their color. Joe Libbon knew them all, knew how they suffered from racial injustice, and she learned about this from her father.

She changed schools frequently as her family moved to find work -- to Laurelton, N.Y., to New Haven, and to suburban Philadelphia. Despite hardship in schooling she was admitted to Radcliffe College -- her uncle Frank paid the tuition. She worked as well as studied and graduated with a degree in Economics in 1949.

As a 14 year old in Philadelphia she had picketed the American Red Cross because they segregated the blood donated by "Negroes" from the blood of "Whites". She went to work camps in Philadelphia slums. After college the American Friends Service Committee sent her to Tokyo 1951-1953 where she lived with and aided destitute Japanese families relocated from Manchuria at the end of the Japanese occupation there.

She returned from Japan, coming 'round the world in a British cargo ship, via Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal, and debarked in Genoa -- whence she journeyed, by herself, to visit her father's family in Calabria, and from there she traveled alone to East Germany and visited her mother's family before returning to the U.S.

In the summer of 1953 she met Alexander McPhedran, a medical student she had known slightly in college. He courted her and they became engaged in September and married on 26 December 1953 at the Friends Meeting in Longfellow Park, Cambridge, MA. They lived in Cambridge until he graduated from medical school in June 1954 and then she was with him through what must have seemed endless postgraduate training in Philadelphia, and later Boston.

From 1955 to 1957 he served his military obligation in the United States Public Health Service in Mobile, Alabama. They both learned something about life in the South. Their son Alexander was born there, and they developed deep and lasting friendships in Mobile and discovered that it was possible for left wing liberals to live in the South.

The years 1957 to 1963 were spent in Cambridge and Belmont, MA, while her husband Alex was a resident physician in Internal Medicine and Neurology; and he was awarded a fellowship in Neurophysiology. David was born in 1957 and Thomas in 1960. Finally, Alex got a real job as a Neurologist at Atlanta's Emory University Medical School 1963-1973. John was born in 1964 and all four sons flourished in school and played ball on the dead end street where they lived. Sometimes Winnie would round them up for meals or at bed time by playing band music -- very loud -- on the phonograph.

While in Atlanta Winnie worked on school desegregation and voter registration. This was never easy and not always safe, but she was dedicated; yet her family was never neglected and her husband and sons shared in her experiences. But also, at her insistence, they bought a boat to keep on Lake Lanier: they had many happy trips to the lake.

Almost every summer the family came to Ridgewood Island in Little Sebago Lake, Gray, Maine. Everyone loved being in Maine. In the late sixties Alex became interested in the decline of primary medical care in the U.S. and he and the family decided to come to Augusta, Maine to help start New England's first Family Practice training program. For Winnie, this was hard: she had many, many dear friends and co-workers in the South, but she thought it would be best for Alex and for her sons to make the move, and she did so with her usual courage.

Winnie continued to raise her sons and advise and help Alex. They bought a house in Readfield and have lived there ever since. Winnie worked with the Maine Indian Program Committee of the American Friends Service Committee. They assisted men and women of the Wabnaki Confederacy in the writing of a resource book about Native Americans in Maine: The Wabnakis of Maine and the Maritimes. This book is still available and is highly regarded for its scholarship. Winnie continued to work on other difficulties suffered by the tribes -- the high rates of suicide in teens, the high rates of imprisonment of the men.

She volunteered in the Child Development Services of Southern Kennebec County and was a member of its Board. President Carter appointed her to the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children in 1980. Later still she was a member of the Board of the Kennebec Valley Medical Center and Chairperson of its Long Term Care division.

She volunteered for the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, helping the establishment of the Center which was constructed adjacent to the Bennett Katz Library at the University of Maine, Augusta campus.

She worked at the Maranacook School after it was established in 1976, helping with curriculum design and writing the grant for the establishment of the first school-based health center in Maine. She worked as a volunteer in that center for years. Also on the Maranacook faculty were her daughter-in-law Patty Gordon and her son David -- until in February 2000 David perished in an avalanche on Mt. Washington. Winnie said that this was the worst thing ever to happen to her.

In all these matters -- family, work, volunteer work -- she always knew what was the right thing to do, but she was never holier-than-thou about it. She knew the right thing to be done and would do it. She never put herself first -- never. She was interested in everyone and she could listen with the best. She had not a shred of personal vanity. She was a wonderfully kind, loving human being, and we will not see her like soon again.

Mourning her loss are her husband Alex, her sons Alex, Tom and John, their spouses Jayne, Karen Hazzard, Patty Gordon, her grandchildren Andrew (and his wife Rachel), Rebecca (and her husband Dewey Hernandez and their son Remy,) Karen McPhedran, Ryan McPhedran, Jackson McPhedran and Carter McPhedran, Sydney and Spencer Hazzard; also, her sister Elizabeth Forsythe of Harrison, ME., and her brother Dr. Joseph Libbon of Schenectady, N.Y.

There will be no visiting hours, but there will be a memorial service at a later date. Contributions may be made to the Maine Indian Program of the American Friends Service Committee, to the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, or to the David McPhedran Scholarship at Maranacook Community School.


Published in Kennebec Journal on Apr. 27, 2013
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