Obituary for Mab Ashforth
ROCKPORT — Mab Ashforth passed away at her home Dec. 14, 2017, surrounded in love by her husband, Bo Goldman, and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mab was born in New York City May 13, 1931. Her family constructed and controlled many of the buildings on the city’s Upper East Side. Her childhood was spent shuttling between Millbrook, N.Y., and Manhattan, and Newport, R.I., during World War II, where her father was stationed, serving in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant commander.
She attended Dana Hall and Barnard College and made her debut in 1949. Her boyfriend at the time, Thomas Hoving, attended Princeton and had a roommate who happened to be in love with her. He also happened to be a Jew. Consequently, he had no invitation to her débutante ball. Posing as a waiter, he snuck in through the kitchen entrance of the Ritz Carlton, dropped the tray, and by the end of the night Mab and Bo were dancing. Both believers in the back door as a natural entrance, the pair were well matched. Both raised on Park Avenue, the pair were not. For while Mab’s family was from the Mayflower set, Bo’s was from the Lower East Side by way of Lithuania. Naturally they married. Instant orphans, they decided it would be much simpler to create their own family.
Bo was a writer, one with promise, who at the age of 25 had already been produced on Broadway. But the ensuing years were a struggle, and Mab single-handedly managed to keep their family afloat. She decided that the toys her children loved best were the ones she made herself, using scraps salvaged from the fur district. One day she hauled a sackful of them into F.A.O. Schwartz and convinced the manager to stock them on a trial basis. He said “We’ll try one or two.” They sold out within an hour. No two were the same. Unlike the uber-structured German Steiff toys the store usually stocked, Mab’s creations were soft and unwieldy caterpillars, spiders and Grinches with tiny music boxes sewn inside to lull a child to sleep. They were collected widely, purchased for the children of tourists, conventioneers, foreign heads of state, Henry Kissinger and Lauren Bacall.
To save money, Mab left the city and moved her family out to the potato fields of Sagaponack, N.Y., in what would become a series of musical beds ranging from house-sitting for the naturalist writer Peter Matthiessen to bunking long-term at a Polish boarding house. She opened a fish market and baked bread and put her children to work. She christened the place “Loaves & Fishes.” Devoted customers included Truman Capote and Jacqueline Kennedy.
In 1975, at the age of 43, the promise her husband had shown as a young writer finally paid off. Bo wrote the screenplay for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." The film went on to sweep all the major Academy Awards, the first time this had happened since 1934. Mab sold her recipes and the store, and moved her family to an old cattle ranch in Northern California – an easier commute for her now in-demand husband. She loved their new home and was determined to keep it as wild as she found it, gifting most of it to the local land trust and preserve.
Mab and Bo raised six children, have seven grandchildren, and two great- grandchildren. Their eldest son was killed in an accident at the age of 22.
They moved to Rockport, reuniting with friends and making many, many more. Bo said, “Mab gave me a life, and Maine has given us an environment where we could not only end our lives in peace, but in an endless spiritual embrace.” The family would like to express their gratitude to the community Mab and Bo call home, and for the outpouring of friendship and love. It is suggested that anyone who would like to make a donation in Mab’s memory direct it to: Paralyzed Veterans of America, 7 Mill Brood Road, P.O. Box 921, Wilton, NH 03086-0921 or to the Farm Hands Program at Aldermere Farm, 70 Russell Ave., Rockport, ME 04856.