Debora Mandelbaum, Earth Keeper

Debora "Debby" Marcus Mandelbaum of Ridgefield, a prominent psychotherapist and environmental activist, died Monday, January 2, 2012, a few months shy of her 60th birthday, after living with breast cancer for 14 years. Debby passed peacefully, surrounded by loved ones, in her living room covered with her daughter's paintings and son's photographs, and regularly replenished by friends and family with fresh flowers, candles and classical records.

Debby was born in Paterson, NJ, March 27, 1952, a daughter of Revena and Mortimer "Louis" Marcus. Debby was raised in Fair Lawn, NJ, where she was an A student, enjoyed horseback riding and listening to The Beatles, and served as school color guard. She then left for Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, where she earned her bachelor of art's in sociology in 1974. After graduation, she discovered what would become her lifelong love of travel, driving cross-country.

When Debby settled again on the East Coast, she set out for her first position in social work and in 1975 accepted a role as childcare worker for emotionally disturbed children at the Summit School in Nyack, NY. This is where she met another childcare worker, Michael Mandelbaum, who, as the story goes, knew immediately he had to marry her. She took a bit of convincing, but by June 1975 Debby had accepted his proposal. From that moment on, they were nearly inseparable.

Debby and Michael moved to Maine for a year, where they reveled in the fresh northern air, swam in their lake, visited their neighbor's farm and ate lobster on the coast. Then they moved to Queens, NY, while Debby earned her master's in social work from Adelphi University.

On May 18, 1976, Debby and Michael were married by the mayor of Fair Lawn and on August 29, 1976, they were married again in Debby's childhood garden by Michael's cousin, renowned rabbi, philosopher and author Elliot Dorff. In 1979, Debby and Michael Mandelbaum moved to the Ridgebury area of Ridgefield, a section of town they chose for its woodsiness and proximity to lakes and marshes.

Debby and Michael gave birth to their son, Philip, on August 1, 1981, and their daughter, Jamie, on May 17, 1984. Philip graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1999, Jamie in 2002. Like his mother, Philip studied sociology, and earned his bachelor of arts in the field from Vassar College in 2003. Jamie earned her bachelor of art's in studio art and women's studies from Syracuse University and then earned her bachelor of science in nursing degree from Quinnipiac University. Today, Philip is a professional writer and musician, while Jamie serves as a postpartum RN at Weill Cornell New York Presbyterian Hospital. Both children left their homes in New York City to help their father care for Debby during her final months. They were joined by Debby's sister, Susan Paynter and her husband Michael Kolber.

Throughout her life, Debby enjoyed gardening, walking her dog in the woods, cooking, birding, traveling, singing and harmonizing, reading and watching news and comedy-news shows. She also enjoyed playing Scrabble and discussing music, movies, food, art, human rights and politics. During her time in Ridgefield, she could often be found hiking Bennett's Pond or Lake Windwing, watching her kids swim at Martin Park, viewing the installations at the Aldrich Museum, or participating in a town meeting. Debby was a sought-after private practice therapist and is also well-known locally for leading local efforts to end war, protect women's rights, save open space and more.

Debby was the founder of the Ridgefield Earth Alliance and launched the town's first-ever, now-annual Earth Day celebration; co-founder of the Ridgefield Open Space Association, working successfully to save hundreds of acres of wilderness; a professional member of the town's Crisis Team; and part of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and Smithsonian Institute. Leading by example, Debby shared her morals and values, breeding future environmental leaders through her Earth Keepers groups at Ridgebury Elementary School, as well as working with her son and the Ant-Defamation League to create the Ridgefield High School Diversity Day.

Debby is survived by her son and daughter, her husband, her father, her sister, her brother Jeffrey Marcus, and many more admiring family and friends.

A gathering to celebrate the life of Debora "Debby" Marcus Mandelbaum will be held Sunday, January 29, 2012, at 10:30 AM, at The Ridgefield Playhouse. It will be open to the public. In case of inclement weather, the event will be held the following day, Monday, January 30, 2012, at 5:30 PM, also at The Playhouse.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, Debby asked that donations be made to any/all of the following charities: The Nature Conservancy; METAvivor; or BCMets. For more information on donations and/or to share your photos and memories of Debby, visit the "Celebrate the life of Debby Mandelbaum" Facebook page at


In lieu of flowers or gifts, we ask, per Debby's request, that you please consider a donation -- IN HER NAME -- to any/all of the charities below.

1. METAvivor

Metastatic breast cancer is the spread of breast cancer to non-adjacent parts of the body -- most commonly to the bones, liver, lungs and/or brain. At present, the disease is not considered survivable. METAvivor hopes to help change that.

2. BCMets

BCMets is an online discussion board with ongoing input from experienced Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients. "It is a list where passion, compassion, information, spunk, fun, love, fears, tears and frustration are posted, tolerated, welcomed and loved" (Linda, BcMETS member). Debby was a devoted member of this group, read the posts daily and contributed. She found help, hope and comfort in her readings and correspondence with other women.

Donations to BCMets in honor of Debby will be directed to the Pete Bevin Fund, created to assist site owner Pete Bevin with hosting expenses for the Breast Cancer List Archives, Breast Cancer List AUCTION site, BCList Annual Gathering site and the the online discussion board.

3. The Nature Conservancy

As everyone who loved Debby knows, no place on earth was more apropos for her than the earth itself. Nothing made her more at peace than walking through the woods with her dog or sculpting and digging in her legendary garden. And few things made her more proud than watching her children enjoy nature or work to protect our environment.

For as long as we can all remember, The Nature Conservancy -- dedicated to protecting Earth's natural resources and beauty -- was Debby's favorite charity. (It is one of the only charities that has always stuck to its mission, thusly never disappointing a woman with unflappable morals and values.)


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