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"You’ve always been a hero of mine. I’ve admired you my whole life” were among the last words Claire Fusaro heard before her indomitable spirit left her earthly body on September 12. Claire departed with loving family by her side and music in the air, seven years after a cancer diagnosis which she managed with the same strength and intelligence, curiosity and study, grace and poise with which she lived her 78 years.
Claire grew up in the Islington neighborhood of Westwood, Mass., with her parents Leonard “Paul” and Marie (Gotovich) Kroll and her big sister and lifelong friend, Gerri (Kroll) Slayton, who was with her all the days of her life. She was active in Camp Fire Girls, enjoyed winter activities at Rocky Woods in Medfield and summer fun at White Island Pond in Wareham. Her lakefront cottage there is a gathering place for friends and family to this day.
At Westwood High School she was captain of the cheerleading squad, queen of her senior prom, and a guard on the basketball team. Always a connector of friends, she found great pleasure in organizing reunions for her Class of 1962. Through her intellectual curiosity and hard work, she excelled in school, becoming the first of her family to attend college.
“The Gift of an Education. Did I remember to say “Thank You?” Claire wrote in the 50th reunion book of her Mount Holyoke College class of 1966. “Bridge played, friendships made, some for a lifetime - Mary, Lois, my big/little sister Betty… I followed in the footsteps of alums that Mary Lyon sent out to teach. I’m a public-spirited community activist, lover of history. I moderate forums and create local history exhibits. And I’m glad and grateful for the gift that was given to me. Thank You.”
Claire never stopped paying that gift forward. She relocated to Cambridge, Mass., earned a Master’s Degree from Boston State College (now UMASS), and embarked on a career teaching history and world studies in Wilmington, Reading, Needham, and Wellesley.
In Cambridge, Lois introduced Claire and Louis, who celebrated 47 years of marriage in August. Always the hipper of the two, Claire preferred going out for live music and a cocktail while Lou’s favorite spot was Bailey’s for a hot fudge sundae. Claire and Lou found common ground in many other things, though, including their deep love of family and ability to spark joy and laughter in others. They welcomed their son David and moved to their home in Needham on his first birthday.
Claire embraced her favorite roles as fearless leader of her family - devoted Wife to Louis, admired Auntie (and hero) to Diane and Anne-Marie, and loving Mother to David. She tended to broken bones and broken hearts, lost championship games, and dented cars with patience, kindness, and a sense of humor. And most of all, with love. As David grew, his friends sought out time to sit down and chat with Claire, even if it made them late for a planned outing. They recognized how special she was as a mother and as a friend of their own. Her laughter, brilliance, and infectious smile shone so much light and warmth on the family home on Brookline Street.
She was the best Mom a boy could ever hope for.
In Needham, she found for her family a lovely community. True to her engaging spirit, she dedicated herself to the people of her town. Claire won election, then re-election, then re-re-election to Town Meeting and the School Committee. She volunteered with the Needham Historical Society and League of Women Voters, who honored Claire with the Award for Outstanding Service in 2015. Her time with these organizations made her community a better place and enriched her life with enduring friendships: among them Caroline, Marilyn, and Sue with whom she enjoyed vibrant conversations over tea in person and on weekly zoom dates when that became the thing to do. Always hip, you know?
As she and Lou headed into retirement, they built a new home in Misquamicut, Westerly, RI, where they had spent summers with friends and family for as long as they had known each other. Though her diagnosis happened to coincide with their move to Misquamicut, Claire was, as one neighbor put it, the queen of the beach. She made old friendships new again, took walks in the neighborhood, and enjoyed catching up in the late afternoon sun after a swim. She volunteered her time and love of history to the Misquamicut Centennial, researching and curating the celebration of her newest hometown.
She continued her lifelong love of travel that had taken her from coast to coast and throughout Europe as a young woman, to China and Japan on educational exchange programs, and, most recently, on a road trip through Yellowstone and the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota with David.
Claire brought loved ones together, hosting holiday dinners and summer reunions. Conversations were always spirited, especially after a margarita (her favorite part was the salt, so she said). That salt never hurt when the political news of the day came up with her dear brothers-in-law, Frank, Joseph, and Nelson, and sisters-in-law, Carol and Denise.
What’s an activist to do after all?
Keep teaching. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep engaging. Keep laughing. That’s what Claire did until her last day. She met her diagnosis and everything else that came before her head-on. She studied. She questioned. She listened.
And she stood up for herself until her body had had enough. But never her spirit or her love for life.
A celebration of her life so fulfilled will take place at the Watch Hill Chapel in Westerly, RI, at 12:30 on October 14. All are most welcome.
Throughout the part of her journey that involved cancer, Claire felt great comfort in the amazing care she received from her team at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In that spirit, we ask that donations be sent that way. Over the course of those seven years, Claire was able to receive treatments that weren’t available when she was first diagnosed. Your help matters and your donations help.
We’d also like to mention again the League of Women Voters. Claire believed in democracy and education. The League promotes both.
“The Gift of an Education. Did I remember to say “Thank You?”
No, Claire. Thank You.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
10 Brookline Place, W 6th floor, Brookline MA 02445