Ann Karnovsky of Cambridge and Chilmark died at her summer home on Martha’s Vineyard on June 23. She was 83. She had arrived on the Island with her son Dan on Sunday, June 22, eager to begin her 48th Vineyard summer, but a fall on Monday morning led to her sudden passing. Fortunately, she did not suffer.
She was born in Chicago in 1930, the daughter of Dr. Philip Rosenblum, a pediatrician, and his wife, Juliet Meyer Rosenblum. She lived on the South Side with her parents and younger brother Jim, and spent summer vacations in the lakeside town of Frankfort, Mich., a summer community not unlike the Vineyard, if you substitute the Cherry Hut for Humphrey’s and Crystal Lake for Menemsha Pond.
She attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School, which culminated with two years at the university itself. Those two years, really her junior and senior years of high school, were an eye-opening experience as she was joined in classes by veterans attending college on the GI Bill whose wartime experiences made them far more worldly than their teenaged classmates. She subsequently enrolled at Radcliffe and began her long and happy life in Cambridge, never living more than a few blocks from Briggs Hall, the dormitory she entered as a freshman in 1948.
Shortly after her graduation in 1952, she married Dr. Manfred L. Karnovsky, a biochemist originally from South Africa, who was just beginning a long and distinguished career on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. Ann later continued her education at Harvard, earning a master’s degree in education and, in 1973, a Ph.D. in child psychology. Her diverse career brought her to the James Jackson Putnam Children’s Center, the Judge Baker Guidance Center and the Cambridge Guidance Center. She also held teaching positions at Harvard Medical School and Wheelock College, and she maintained a private practice in Cambridge for a number of years.
Ann traveled to China with a group of child psychologists in 1976, when Mao was still alive and the Cultural Revolution had not yet come to an end. She did not know it at the time, but that trip marked the beginning of an important and exciting chapter in her life. In 1981, she and Manfred were invited to China to interview, select and place Chinese graduate students at American universities in connection with an initiative that came to be known as the China-United States Biochemistry Examination and Application program, or CUSBEA for short. It was the first of three such trips that she and Manfred would make to China in the 1980s, as the highly successful program brought over 420 Chinese students to this country. Their host, professor Xiaocheng Gu of Beijing University, became a close friend who later spent a year in Boston working in Manfred’s lab. In 2000, Ann returned to China to interview students for Harvard’s Division of Medical Sciences, accompanied by one of the original CUSBEA students, now a faculty member at Harvard.
A stylish and gracious hostess, Ann filled her homes with antiques and artwork and their gardens with a dazzling array of carefully chosen flora. She was delighted when, in 2012, pictures of her garden in Cambridge (Muffin’s Garden) were added to the Garden Club of America collection at the Smithsonian Institution.
Ann’s connection to the Vineyard began in 1967, when she and Manfred rented a home on Lighthouse Road from Guido Majno, one of Manfred’s colleagues at the medical school. In 1969, they purchased their home in Chilmark. Originally a sheep barn built in 1850, it had been converted into a house in the 1920s. Known at the time as Sunny Acres, it was the setting for Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, Edward Streeter’s bestseller, which was later made into a popular movie starring Jimmy Stewart and Maureen O’Hara.
Ann loved her communities in Cambridge and Chilmark. Indeed, it was her Chilmark community that led years later to the expansion of her family, when her son Dan was married to Priscilla Cohn, whom he had met while working at the Chilmark Community Center. The couple were married in 1990 at the home of Priscilla’s parents, Albert and Sylvia, on Prospect Hill.
Although not a sailor herself — she generally preferred boating on days when clouds and wind were scarce — Ann took great pleasure in assisting Art and Marge Railton in running the Menemsha Races. While three generations of her family took part in the competition, she served proudly in whatever capacity was needed: organizing the end-of-season race parties; ordering and selling coveted Menemsha Pond Racing T-shirts; and carefully recording finishing times on the committee boat when Marge’s health forced her to give up that important duty. When Art retired and Charlie Shipway took over as commodore, she continued in that role, her reassuring presence helping Charlie maintain the spirit of the races that Art had nurtured for so many years.
On the Vineyard, she loved eating shad roe on chilly spring weekends and soft shell crabs on her birthday in June, and she ended every summer by making enormous batches of beach plum and wild grape jelly, whose Vineyard-evoking sweetness helped sustain her family through the bitter winter months to come. She enjoyed socializing at Squibby in those years when there was enough sand to call it a beach, and she was a loyal patron of the Chilmark library, the swap meet, and the West Tisbury farmers’ market. She doted on her beloved grandchildren, she spoiled her little dog Muffin, and she knew how to beat the crowd at Chilmark Chocolates, which she happily was never without.
She leaves her brother Dr. James Rosenblum and his wife Barbara of Los Angeles; and her son Daniel and daughter in law Priscilla Cohn Karnovsky, and their children Sydney and Nicholas of Brookline.
She was interred in a private ceremony on July 2 at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, which was followed by a reception in her Cambridge garden.