Meryle Zusman, a staff member at the Derry Public Library, loved it when Elizabeth Ives, chair of the Board of Trustees, came in. “We would sit in the back room and she’d tell stories,” Zusman said. “Elizabeth had the best laugh — a smoky, deep-chested laugh.”
Ives died Sunday, Nov. 13, at the age of 81 after a battle with cancer. Her legacy lives on around Derry, especially in the library. Both the collection and personnel benefited from Ives’s attention.
Ives was born Nov. 3, 1935, in Pennsylvania. She obtained a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from Penn State in 1957, and began a 40-year career as an actress, director and stage manager. Her work took her all over the country and to other countries. In retirement she and her sisters Margaret ives and Marion Willis started a theater program for teens, “Kaleidoscope.”
She was active in the restoration of the Derry Opera House, was chair and treasurer of the Derry Arts Council, was on the Social Justice Committee at First Parish Church, and volunteered at the Sonshine Soup Kitchen. She and her sisters were named Derry’s Citizens of the Year in 2009.
But Ives found her greatest love in promoting the Derry Public Library, where she served as a trustee and eventually chaired the board of trustees. She was also chair of the state Board of Library Trustees.
“She was one of the reasons I came to Derry,” Library Director Cara Barlow said. “I met her in my interview, and I wanted to work with her.” Barlow described Ives as “lively, forward-thinking, full of intellectual curiosity.”
Barlow wrote in an e-mail, “Elizabeth was funny, warm and so supportive of young people. The first Christmas I was at the Library we didn’t have a performer lined up for the Holiday Open House, so I convinced my youngest daughter, Molly, to play Christmas music on her violin – something that was not in her wheelhouse. Elizabeth was there, encouraging Molly, and brought a bouquet of flowers for her. That generosity of spirit is what I remember the most about Elizabeth. She was interested in everything, loved a good laugh and was such wonderful company. She did lots of good things for the Library, but what I remember the most about her is how much I enjoyed her. This is a sad time for many of us.”
Zusman, communications coordinator for the library, said Ives was a “private person” and that the staff was not aware of the extent of her illness. “She never spoke of it,” Zusman said. “She was extremely stubborn, but in a good way.”
But Ives did talk about her career. “She had such a colorful, interesting life,” Zusman recalled. “We would talk about the theater, the places she’d been.”
And though Ives had little interest in fame, Zusman said, “I kept threatening to write her memoirs for her.”
Council Chair Brian Chirichiello had the opportunity to get to know Ives over 20 years, both as a private citizen and in his official capacity when she came before the Council for the library budget. “The whole family,” he said, “is so community-oriented. They give generously of their time. You don’t see that level of volunteerism as much.”
Ives deeply cared about her community, Chirichiello said, and loved her job as library trustee.
She is survived by siblings Marion Willis and Margaret Ives of Derry and Robert T. Ives and his wife Ruth of Valparaiso, Ind.; nieces and nephews Bob Ives of Vancouver, Wash., Bruce Ives of Chicago, Karen Williams of Naperville, Ill., Gordon Graham of Derry and their families; and many cousins.
Ives’s funeral was scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 17, at 10 a.m. in First Parish Church, Derry. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the church or to the Derry Public Library.