RIP Jorie Blair Long

Jorie Blair Long:   2 March 1926—1 September 2017

Jorie Blair Long:
2 March 1926—1 September 2017

My mother died today, at the age of 91. I want to say a bit about her life.

She was born in what to outside eyes would have looked like circumstances of privilege: her parents were affluent (her father was Deputy Governor of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago) and could afford to travel to destinations far less accessible in the 1930s than they are today (Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand). But her childhood was harrowing, dominated by a physically abusive older brother (who literally tried three times to kill her, by his own later admission) and emotionally abusive parents who treated her more like a “poor relation” than like a member of the family.

Despite her consistent A’s in schoolwork, her parents told her she was mentally deficient, nicknaming her “non compos mentis.” Her father was willing to pay for only two years of college for her, as this was all he thought girls needed. (He would happily have paid the full four years for her brother, had he been willing to go.) On her father’s deathbed, when he was no longer able to communicate, her mother stole her inheritance by literally forcing his hand to make an X on a new will, thus leaving my mother penniless and dependent.

My grandmother kept my mother at home for years as essentially a servant, convincing her that she was not competent to survive on her own. (She came to identify with the heroine of Now, Voyager.) Finally, at age 30, my mother gathered the courage to escape, driving to Los Angeles in a mix of fear, guilt, and elation. My mother soon found secretarial work and was able to support herself perfectly well. She also learned to fly an airplane.

In a few years she met and married the man who would become my father. Sadly, while on a business trip in Latin America he died in a plane crash, while I was still a baby. My mother was left to raise me on her own, which meant years of difficult financial struggle for her; at one point most of our possessions were sold for debt.

My mother was determined to raise me in as different a manner as possible from the way she had been raised. She treated me almost as an adult – discussing serious matters with me, and never censoring my reading. She also encouraged my intellectual interests; I couldn’t have been much more than five when she pasted the words “Cogito ergo sum” on my bathroom mirror and explained to me what they meant. It was around the same age that we debated the question whether everything that has a beginning has to have an ending: I said no, she said yes; I pointed to the series of numbers from zero to infinity, and she countered by telling me about the negative numbers.

My mother also taught me the importance of independence and thinking for oneself; I’m sure she’s a large part of the reason I became first a libertarian, and then a dissident within libertarianism.

Now that she’s gone, there’s no one – or no one I’m in touch with, anyway – who remembers me when I was a child. It feels strange.

While I was earning my graduate degree at Cornell, my mother was working there as an administrative assistant and taking courses on the side. Eventually she applied to become a full-time student, finishing her final two years of college and graduating at the age of 65. So there, granddad.

In the years since, the one thing my mother most wanted was to have a home – by which she meant a place large enough to have all her papers and letters unpacked and out, so that she could use them to write her memoirs. My greatest regret is that I was never able to provide this for her. I hope eventually to make up for this in part by writing some sort of biography of her, drawing on her papers plus whatever I can remember of her stories. I’m glad that I was at least able to provide her with comfort and companionship in her final years, and that while she was still able to travel I could take her on several trips to Europe.

She was a wonderful person, and a wonderful mother. She deserved better from life than she got. Farewell, dearest Mother. I miss you.

17 Responses to RIP Jorie Blair Long

  1. Brandon September 1, 2017 at 10:24 pm #

    Terribly sorry to hear it. Her parental style sounds much better than the mixture of condescension and authoritarianism that I usually see.

  2. William Gillis September 1, 2017 at 10:28 pm #

    My deepest condolences, Roderick.

    This is lovely and I would love to read more about her life.

    • Roderick September 1, 2017 at 10:35 pm #

      Trigger warning for William: she was a Christian Scientist.

    • Jesse Walker September 1, 2017 at 10:43 pm #

      Thanks for writing this, Roderick. My condolences.

  3. K. Gallagher (zhinxy) September 1, 2017 at 10:55 pm #

    My condolences to you and yours. She sounds like a truly wonderful woman.

  4. John Markley September 1, 2017 at 11:41 pm #

    I’m so sorry.

  5. Ryan Wills September 2, 2017 at 6:12 am #

    What beautiful sentiment. My deepest sympathies, Roderick.

  6. Peter Ammermann September 2, 2017 at 6:14 am #

    I’m sorry for your loss, and thank you for sharing a bit about her life. She sounds like a very interesting person, and I look forward to reading her full biography if you are ever able to make the time to sit down and write it.

  7. Laurent Carnis September 2, 2017 at 6:44 am #

    Dear Roderick
    Very sory for you and condoleances.
    It’is’always a ver hard moment to live.
    Thanks si much for sharing those sharing. I kept two words in mind after thé reading: home and freedom.

  8. Micah Cobb September 2, 2017 at 2:34 pm #

    Dr. Long,

    I’m sorry for your loss. Your mother sounds remarkable and strong; as my relatives of the same generation as your mother dies, I’m learning about the remarkable strength and courage of the women of that era. They were so often devalued and disrespected be the men around them.

  9. Stephen W. Carson September 2, 2017 at 2:37 pm #

    When I met your mother I could feel the powerful bond between the two of you.

    She expressed explicitly her great pride in you.

    Much love, Stephen

  10. Chris M. Sciabarra September 2, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

    Roderick, words cannot express the depth of my sorrow for your loss. But I look at you and say about your mom: She done good. You are a colleague, but you are also a friend, and I wish you nothing but life, love, and happiness for all your remaining days–knowing full well that you carry within you the best that any mom could offer.
    With love and friendship, always,
    Chris

  11. Wayne September 3, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

    Roderick, it’s been a long time, and I’m not sure if I ever met your mom. (Did she ever come to an FNF or LNF meeting?) But she was obviously a very strong and good-hearted woman. I am saddened by your loss and thankful for her bringing you into the world and rearing you the way she did.

  12. Sheldon Richman September 4, 2017 at 2:05 pm #

    My deepest condolences, Roderick.

  13. Richard O. Hammer September 5, 2017 at 5:15 pm #

    I was honored to know Jorie Blair Long since she came with Roderick to a number of potluck dinners at my house in Hillsborough, NC. During those years (~1992–97) Roderick was an Assistant Prof. at UNC Chapel Hill and I was trying to launch a new sort of church, the Free Accord Unitarian Fellowship. Jorie participated insightfully in our discussions of religion and demonstrated great cooking with the dishes she brought to share. She was caring, considerate, and uniformly supportive of Roderick. Thank you Roderick, for bringing me the chance to have known your Mom, and for your addition above to my knowledge of her and your origins.

  14. Gus diZerega September 8, 2017 at 7:39 pm #

    The passing of our final living parent is one of life’s greatest transformations, and when we aare close to them, one of its most painful. My deepest sympathies to you at this time.

  15. Neil Ball, II September 17, 2017 at 10:04 am #

    For what they’re worth, you have my most sincere condolences. My deepest gratitude extends to that most amazing woman who raised the man that showed me how to live. I am sorry for your loss and forever indebted to her legacy. She must have been incredibly proud to have raised such a remarkable son. Thank you for sharing her story with us and for all you do.

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