Mary Jane Campbell Carpenter, a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, bridge partner, and friend, taught thousands of Norwalk 4th graders in a career that spanned more than 35 years. She died last week, in her home in Windsor, with her two children at her side.
Her husband, Richard Clark Carpenter, died in March of 2020, when the Covid pandemic prevented any kind of memorial service. A Mass honoring both of them will be held Tuesday, Dec. 21, at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in East Norwalk, where they were married in 1958.
Mrs. Carpenter was a native of East Norwalk, and attended St. Joseph School, then Sacred Heart Academy in Stamford, where she graduated at the top of her class in 1954.
She enrolled at Boston College in 1955, in one of the first classes of women there. Although she transferred to the College of New Rochelle after her freshman year, wishing to be closer to home, she was on “the heights” long enough to meet a handsome BC senior from Wethersfield who asked her to dance at a Connecticut Club party.
While Mary Jane studied in New Rochelle, Dick Carpenter fulfilled his ROTC duties as a U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant, guarding a Nike missile base on Long Island. The two continued their courtship, sometimes meeting “under the clock” at Manhattan’s Biltmore Hotel. She even skipped classes one day – a rare transgression – so they could see Queen Elizabeth’s motorcade arrive at the United Nations.
They were married in 1958 and, after brief stints in Philadelphia, where Dick was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, and Hartford, where he worked in the city’s planning department, they settled back in Norwalk in 1963.
Mrs. Carpenter began teaching 4th grade at St. Thomas the Apostle School in East Norwalk in 1967, and taught there until it closed in 1990. She then moved to All Saints School in Norwalk, where she taught until she retired in 2002. Visitors to All Saints can still see a tree planted in her honor when she retired.
The Carpenters loved their home on Gregory Point, and were avid sailors and longtime members of the Shore and Country Club. They organized an annual tradition of door-to-door Christmas Caroling, which delighted the neighborhood children and always ended with a festive party. Mrs. Carpenter was also an enthusiastic and skilled bridge player well into her 80s. Only Covid could stop her from weekly games with friends.
After she and her husband retired, they particularly enjoyed unhurried driving trips, visiting family in Chicago, Wisconsin and Michigan, and friends in Maine, Washington D.C. and elsewhere. They also cherished summer trips to a family cottage in Point Judith, Rhode Island.
The granddaughter of Irish immigrants, she was proud of her heritage. She and her husband were longtime members of the Gaelic American Club in Fairfield, and they travelled to Ireland several times, including taking all their children and grandchildren for a memorable Christmas trip in 2013.
The Carpenters were passionate consumers of current events. A daily morning ritual saw them trading sections of the New York Times together over coffee – outside on their front porch when the weather was nice - reading passages in the news that struck them. She was also a voracious reader of mystery novels, completing several a week for decades.
She rarely saw a “tag sale” sign she didn’t stop for, and loved perusing thrift shops for neglected treasures. A favorite pastime was finding old cook books, and learning recipes. She was an excellent cook, and enjoyed passing along tips to her children and grandchildren.
She was a proud and active alumna of the College of New Rochelle, and cherished lifelong friendships from her time there.
She was most proud of her three grandchildren, and enjoyed attending recitals, concerts, sporting events, and commencements.
Mrs. Carpenter is preceded in death by her husband, as well as by her parents, Abbie and Francis Campbell, and her daughter, Jane Elizabeth.
She is survived by her daughter Ellin (Matt) Smith, of Windsor; her son John (Mary) Carpenter, of Nashville; grandchildren Diana Rose Smith, of Austin, Texas; Patrick Campbell Carpenter, of Boston; and Sally Clare Carpenter, a student at Boston College; and her sister, Sally Campbell Woodhall, of Bethlehem, Connecticut.
Visitation will be held Monday, Dec. 20, from 3-5 PM at Magner Funeral Home, 12 Mott Ave., Norwalk. A Funeral Mass will be held Tuesday, Dec. 21, 11:30 AM at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in East Norwalk.