Mary Griswold Flender Was Housing Advocate

Mary Griswold Flender, an elementary school teacher who founded a company that wrote curriculum guides for children's literature, and in retirement on Martha's Vineyard became a dedicated advocate for affordable housing as well as children's literacy, died Saturday, August 20, of cancer at her home in Cambridge. She was 69.

Mrs. Flender, known as Molly, grew up in New Haven, Conn. and summered throughout her life on the Vineyard. She and her husband, John O. Flender, retired to their home in Chilmark in 2000.

At first, Mrs. Flender drew on her work as an elementary school educator and worked as a volunteer with Vineyard and Cape Cod schools helping children learn to read. She founded Read MV, an intergenerational volunteer program for Island schools. The program now has 20 tutors and reaches 50 to 60 children each year. Mrs. Flender had been the director of the intergenerational literacy program of the Cambridge School Volunteers for several years before she moved to the Vineyard.

Recently, Mrs. Flender was a driving force for the creation of affordable housing in Chilmark through the expansion of the resident homesite program and the town's Middle Line Road affordable housing development. In June, she saw more than four years of work on the Middle Line Road development come to fruition when the town voted to proceed with Chilmark's first affordable housing units. At that town meeting, her efforts were acknowledged with a standing ovation from the overflow crowd.

As a child in New Haven, she attended the Foote School. She attended secondary school at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. She was graduated from Smith College in 1957 and held a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

After living in New York, she moved to Cambridge with her children in 1968 where she met and married John Flender in 1971. Mrs. Flender taught for 17 years at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge. She taught second grade, fifth grade, and then became the Lower School librarian. She found the library especially rewarding because she worked with children from many grades and was able to open the world of literature to them.

She left BB&N in 1986 and co-founded, with Sonia Landes, Bookwise, Inc. a Cambridge-based company that wrote and published more than 40 curriculum guides to children's books ranging from Peter Rabbit to Charlotte's Web.

Life on the Vineyard was especially important to her from childhood with her parents, siblings and cousins to later in life with her children and grandchildren who called her Gabby. She excelled on the tennis court, agonized over her gardening skills, and felt at home at the beach with her family. She was always ready for a game of hide and seek or cards with her children or grandchildren. She was as readily identifiable on the tennis court, in the yard, or on the beach by her laughter, playfulness, and always good cheer.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Flender is survived by two daughters, Morgan Baker Brelis of Cambridge and Trina Baker of Sudbury; two sons, Jamie Baker of McLean, Va., and Will Flender of South Royalton, Vt.; two sisters, Sally Leahy of Chestnut Hill and Susanna Kaleck of Hamden, Conn.; a brother, Whit Griswold of West Tisbury; and four grandchildren, Maggie, Ellie, Jamie and Grant.

A memorial service celebrating her life will be held at 2 p.m., Friday, Sept. 16, at the agricultural hall in West Tisbury. Interment in Chilmark will be private.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in her memory to Island Affordable Housing Fund at P.O. Box 4769, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.