Those who knew Marilyn Abel, and many here did through her work at the East Hampton Historical Society, book clubs, volunteer activities, and a range of other interests and passions, will remember her for her devoted friendship and dedication to social activism and the First Amendment.
The long-time resident of East Hampton died on April 5 in Southampton Hospital after a brief illness. She was 74.
At the time of her death, Ms. Abel was the office manager of the historical society and of the Thomas Moran Trust. Richard Barons, the director of both organizations, praised her “people skills, publishing know-how, and enthusiasm.” “She leaves a void,” said Mr. Barons.
Before moving to East Hampton full-time about a decade ago, Ms. Abel, who was born to Robert and Lauretta Cole Abel on June 21, 1938, in Detroit, had a long love affair with books and publishing, beginning when she was a student at Marygrove College in Detroit and working in a bookstore. Later, she enrolled in a graduate program in book publishing at New York University. Her first job out of school was with the American Booksellers Association; other positions followed at Wayne State University Press, New American Library, Viking Penguin, the University of Chicago Press, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
She also worked for the IntraMed division of Sudler & Hennessey in medical conference management.
In 1975, Ms. Abel co-founded the Educational Paperback Association, now the Educational Book and Media Association, and was its executive director for 35 years. The association has made an annual contribution in her name since her retirement, which will continue in her memory.
An ardent supporter of free speech, Ms. Abel could also be counted on to volunteer at a church soup kitchen or come to the aid of battered women at the Retreat. Mr. Barons called her “one of the great liberal Democrats, and a firm supporter of liberal causes.” She kept her Obama magnet on her car throughout the president’s first term, and it was the first thing she transferred to her new car right after buying it.
Books were another love. She was a regular member of Rowdy Hall’s Rowdy Readers book club and finished every book. “She might have said afterward, ‘Gee, I wish I hadn’t read that,’ but she never gave up on it, because of the possibility that the words on the printed page might lead you to a place you’d never been before,” said Mr. Barons.
Ms. Abel “would have made a great scoutmaster,” he said. “She had a marvelous sense of charging forward. If a tree fell in the path she would walk around it, or if an alligator jumped out of the swamp she would tell it to get out the way and we would all just troop behind her.”
Such tenacity saw her through the restoration of a 135-year old house that she rejuvenated with her companion, Ward Mohrfeld. Along with books, theater, opera, and art it became another of her passions, said a friend, Ellen Murphy Bonn, who also mentioned her dedicated support of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Ms. Abel leaves a sister, Anne Marie Searer, a niece and a nephew, and three grand-nieces. Mr. Mohrfeld predeceased her, as did another sister, Helen.
A funeral Mass will be held at Most Holy Trinity Church in East Hampton on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. with a reception to follow. Burial will be private. A celebration of Ms. Abel’s life will be held next month in East Hampton, at a date to be announced.
Memorial contributions have been suggested for Most Holy Trinity Outreach Ministry, 79 Buell Lane, East Hampton 11937; the East Hampton Historical Society, 101 Main Street, East Hampton 11937, or the National Coalition Against Censorship, 19 Fulton Street, Suite 407, New York, N.Y. 10038. In the spirit of Ms. Abel’s commitment to social justice, her family has suggested that her friends “reach out to someone today.”