My friend Roslyn Garfield of Provincetown, MA was a pioneer. Now that she has died at age 91, I can call her that. She wouldn’t hear of it when she was alive. And forget calling her a role model. When she said, “Do not call me an R.M.,” it was like a slap upside the head.
Roslyn grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, graduated high school and moved to New York to get a B.A. from NYU, and an M.A. from Columbia. She lived in Greenwich Village and was known as Danny. On her way to classes, she would stop at the gay bar run by the mafia and put her dollar down for their happy hour drink special on her way home.
The men who ran the place took a shine to her and would take her aside to warn her about women they saw her flirt with – “That one is trouble.” When they heard she was having trouble paying her electric bill, someone went over to her walk-up, rigged the box and she never received another bill.
After graduation, she taught health in a girl’s school in North Carolina and left just before they fired her for being a lesbian. She took all her money and moved to Paris. After a year, when her money ran out, she returned to NYC and in 1956 on a whim one night took a ride with a friend to Provincetown. They arrived before sunrise and slept in the dunes. She fell in love with the town.
In Ptown, Roslyn had many careers. She was a guidance counselor and field hockey coach in a local high school. During the summers she worked packing fish in the ice-house. She was an antique dealer, shop-owner and successful realtor. She was also a successful butch with great stories of the minister’s wife, summer visitors, and martini afternoons in her Boston Whaler.
Phyllis Temple, a gorgeous femme from NYC, visited Ptown in 1968, and Roslyn went into serious wooing mode. Phyllis left Manhattan and moved to be with Roslyn. Eventually Phyllis took over the real estate business and encouraged Roslyn at age 50 to get a law degree. Phyllis an avid reader, never got a library card because she said she didn’t want the commitment. Nonetheless, they were together for 40 years.
Roslyn began practicing law in 1977 and though she was known for her hours of pro bono work during the AIDS epidemic in Ptown, she preferred to tell another story. She once convinced a judge that her client, arrested for jerking off in the dunes, had just finished peeing and was merely shaking off the last drop.
For nearly 60 years she navigated the changes in small town politics and civil society. She was involved in the arts, the film festival, and coastal studies. For 18 years she was Town Moderator and wielded a deft gavel during contentious annual Town Meetings. She loved her community.
Roslyn was also a l’chaim poster girl. She was a gourmet cook, rare books collector, bonsai grower, Red Sox fanatic, tennis player, world traveler, jazz lover and devoted partner. Late in life she took up the cello. She said she loved how it felt between her legs. She built a harpsichord for Phyllis. She took up drawing, “mostly the figure classes,” she’d say and nudge-nudge, wink-wink me. Until two months before she died, she drove her beloved Mercedes Benz down Commercial Street. All the locals knew to dive for the bushes.
In this summer season of celebration of the courageous Edie Windsor and her lioness-hearted stand against DOMA at the Supreme Court, I celebrate Roslyn Garfield and the many courageous old lesbians, especially the butches, who came out and made a difference in their communities and in the world.
Real estate broker was devoted volunteer for non-profits
Phyllis Jean Temple, of Provincetown, died Dec. 27.
Phyllis was a graduate of Hunter High School and Hunter College in New York City. She studied dance with Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham.
Phyllis moved from New York City to Provincetown in 1968 and lived with her beloved life partner, Roslyn Garfield, for 40 years.
Over that time, from fond friends to brief acquaintances, many have emphasized how much the care and commitment and the joy which Phyllis and Roslyn shared has served as an inspiration to others of what a loving relationship can be.
Phyllis was the principal real estate broker of Roslyn Garfield Associates for 36 years, and she served on the town’s municipal advertising and personnel committees.
She was a volunteer and supporter of a number of Provincetown non-profit organizations. She was one of the first volunteers for the Provincetown AIDS Support Group. She and Roslyn served many hours as the auction recorders for the Fine Arts Work Center and the AIDS Support Group auctions. She was a volunteer at both the Provincetown Heritage Museum and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, and she and Roslyn for many years hosted the annual potluck event for the Provincetown Conservation Trust.
In 2001 she received the Leadership Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
From beach picnics to the most elegant restaurants in Paris, Phyllis never failed to have a grand time. And she was always up for an adventure. There are those who remember her sinking into a quaking bog while on a Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies walk and never missing a beat. Not to mention her delight at actually touching the skin of an orca in Provincetown Harbor.
Phyllis loved Provincetown and loved it as her home.
She also loved traveling, and the list of places she visited is a veritable atlas around the world: Paris, China, Hong Kong, India, Tibet, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, South America, Africa, Egypt and Israel, among others. And, no matter where she went or what she was doing, Phyllis could make an entrance with a sense of style that was second to none.
Phyllis was also a voracious reader and heartily enjoyed talking about books. While she loved books, she never had a library card because, she said, she didn’t want the commitment. She was also one of those intrepid souls who did the Sunday Times crossword puzzle in ink.
All who knew Phyllis were lifted by her enthusiasm, her verve, her exuberant embrace of life and the joy of her laughter. She brought life and sparkle, wit and fun into the world and leaves a large space in the heart of all her friends and family.
In addition to her beloved life partner Roslyn, she is survived by her nieces Elizabeth Novak and Judith Seilbert of Florida, her nephew Andrew Wrublin of New York City, and by her dear friends Deborah Heller, Ann Sanders, Eunice Shatz and Roxanne Cumming.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. Gifts in memory of Phyllis may be made to Helping Our Women, P.O. Box 1376, Provincetown, MA 02657 or online at helpingourwomen.org.
Roslyn Garfield was a lawyer and realtor, a philanthropist, artist, and teacher. She was best known in Provincetown, though, for her love and commitment to the community that was her home for more than 50 years.
“If you walked down the street with Roslyn, it was clear that everyone in town knew her,” said her friend Deborah Heller. “If you went with her to a restaurant, I can’t tell you how many people would stop by the table to say hello.”
Ms. Garfield, who also served as town moderator for 18 years, died of cancer June 21 in her home in Provincetown. She was 91.
In the 1960s, she started Roslyn Garfield Associates, a real estate company she ran with her longtime partner Phyllis Temple, who died in 2007.
Temple took over day-to-day management of the company when Ms. Garfield decided to pursue a law degree in her 50s. In 1977, she graduated from the New England School of Law in Boston.
“Her real estate business was very successful,” said Jay Critchley, a Provincetown artist, “but I think she wanted to make a larger impact on the community, and she had a natural affinity for the law.”
As a small-town lawyer, he said, Ms. Garfield “touched all aspects of the town.” Critchley, who also is head of the Provincetown Community Compact, a nonprofit cultural advocacy group, said Ms. Garfield “worked with a lot of people with AIDS, and she helped out lots of artists.”
In 1981, she helped Critchley persuade the Provincetown Board of Selectmen that a sand-encrusted Dodge station wagon he had created was not a mere car, but a sculpture that should be displayed as a work of art. To commemorate her support, he presented her with a sand- encrusted gavel at a celebration that kicked off what was designated Roslyn Garfield Week in Provincetown in 2010.
Since she arrived in 1956, “Provincetown has gone through seismic changes,” Critchley said. “She made a real impact on the quality of life here.”
Ms. Garfield was “feisty, with a real sense of humor,” he said. “She smiled and laughed a lot, but she was also a very good listener. She really enjoyed whatever it was she was doing.”
Besides being a patron of the arts, Ms. Garfield was an artist herself, said Chris McCarthy, executive director of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.
She began playing cello in her later years, McCarthy said, and took drawing and painting classes because she “liked to make art as well as music.” Once, friends recalled, Ms. Garfield built a harpsichord.
She also had a deep interest in town politics and took an active role in local organizations, including the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, and the Fine Arts Work Center. In addition, Ms. Garfield represented Provincetown on the Cape Cod Commission.Continued…
Page 2 of 2 —
During the 18 years Ms. Garfield served as town moderator, she was active in the Massachusetts Moderators Association and took a leading role in recrafting the manual called Town Meeting Time, a parliamentary guide to the town meeting form of government that is used across the state.
Irene Rabinowitz, who succeeded Ms. Garfield as town moderator, called Town Meeting Time “the moderator’s bible.” Through Ms. Garfield’s work on the manual, she said, “she made a lasting impact on Provincetown and on the Commonwealth, and on those towns that still believe in that form of government.”
Before every town meeting Ms. Garfield ran as moderator, “she knew exactly what the issues were,” Heller said. “As people went up to the microphone, she knew their names and understood just what they were saying.”
As director of Helping Our Women, Rabinowitz also worked with Ms. Garfield, who often donated legal advice to clients of the advocacy group, which offers resources for women diagnosed with conditions that are chronic, disabling, or life-threatening.
“When I took this job, she called me up right away and said, ‘If you need help, call me.’ And I did,” Rabinowitz said, adding that Ms. Garfield often offered free legal advice to the organization’s clients.
“The most important thing to Roslyn was her deep sense of community, which was manifested in her love of Provincetown and which she showed through her philanthropy, her involvement in town government, and her love for the arts,” Rabinowitz said. “She was a brilliant, classy, and very wise woman, lovely and extraordinary, and always full of surprises.”
Ms. Garfield regularly helped run local fund-raisers and was instrumental in starting the Provincetown International Film Festival, Heller said.
In addition to her other careers, Ms. Garfield once worked at a Provincetown fish-packing plant.
Ms. Garfield was born in Providence, where she attended Hope High School. She went to New York University and received a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City.
After graduating, she taught physiology at a college in New York and moved to Cape Cod to take a job as a guidance counselor and field hockey coach at Nauset Regional High School.
Ms. Garfield, “was amazingly active,” Heller said. “She played tennis, she bicycled, she walked for miles and miles every day. She was really in marvelous physical condition.”
Ms. Garfield “had close ties with people in the Portuguese fishing industry, the Jamaican community, the lesbian community, the arts community,” Heller said. “She bridged all the many aspects of Provincetown, and she was very well respected.”
Friends plan to announce a memorial service for Ms. Garfield later this year.
Though Ms. Garfield loved Provincetown and enjoyed its dining scene, she also loved to travel and was known to invite friends to accompany her to Paris.
“She was almost a renaissance woman, given the breadth of all she did and all the people she touched,” Heller said. “Somehow, she always had a number of lives going.”