Mary Catherine Bateson
1939 - 2021
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Dr. Mary Catherine Bateson, December 8, 1939 -2021, died on January 2 holding her daughter's hand.

Dr. Bateson was a best-selling author, a linguist, and a cultural anthropologist like her parents Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.

She met her life-long partner, J. Barkev Kassarjian, in 1957 while they were graduate students at Harvard and married in 1960. Their careers took them around the world, living and teaching in Iran and the Philippines, where she learned both Farsi and Tagalog.

Bateson's first book Arabic Language Handbook, published in 1967, is still in print and being used. Our Own Metaphor: A Personal Account of a Conference on the Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation, came out in 1972. With A Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson was the New York Times Best of the Year list in 1984.

Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred was co-written with her father, Gregory, before his death and published in 1987. While Dean of Faculty at Amherst College, Catherine worked with biologist Dr. Richard Goldsby, and they co-authored Thinking Aids: The Social Response to the Biological Threat in 1989. Her New York Times best-selling Composing A Life was published in 1991. Many other books followed, including her follow up Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom, based on the contributions and improvisations of engaged older adults, written to raise the consciousness of the changing life cycle and encourage older adults to claim a voice for the future. This project continued to lead to further exploration of intergenerational communication and changing ways of experiencing time. It led to her involvement as a special consultant to the Lifelong Access Libraries initiative of the Libraries of the Future, emphasizing her Active Wisdom model as a signature program of the initiative.

In 2000 she wrote Full Circles, Overlapping Lives: Culture and Generation in Transition, reflecting on her time teaching at Spelman College with a diverse age group of students exploring women's life histories.

In 2019 she and Dr. Goldsby collaborated once again with Thinking Race: Social Myths and Biological Realities. At the time of her death, she worked on a book with Dr. Stephen Guerriero based on six lectures she gave at Boston College entitled "Love Across Difference." This book will be published posthumously.

Her literary legacy will be cataloged at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

Dr. Bateson taught and lectured, both nationally and internationally. Her teaching and research included time at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ateneo de Manila, University, Brandeis University, Damavand College in Tehran, Amherst College, George Mason University, Spelman College, University of VA, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, and Harvard Graduate School of Education. She was the Dean, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Northern Iran, Dean of Faculty at Amherst College, and President of the Institute of Intercultural Studies in New York City.

Catherine had one daughter, Sevanne Margaret Kassarjian, and two grandsons.

In the later part of her life, she was dedicated to preserving our natural world and addressing the social and environmental impacts of climate change and the dire need for intergenerational communication. She was a visiting scholar for the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, served on the ethics committee for the American Society of Cybernetics, and on the board of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In 2004 she founded Granny Voter, now a program of Generations United, where she was part of developing ongoing efforts to involve seniors on behalf of children. She was a co-chair of Seniors4Kids.org and served on The Possibility Project's advisory board, founded by her son in law.

On a fall trip in 1963, she and her husband were introduced to the small town of Hancock, NH, where they ultimately bought a property that came to be known as Railacres, and when the pandemic hit this year, she moved home to Railacres to be with her family and write.

Dr. Bateson was a MacDowell Fellow in Peterborough, NH, in 1993, 1996, and 1997 and an active member of the local community. She was well known locally for her monthly salon-style gatherings at the Mariposa Museum, which included topics based on her approach to life; "Learning from..." prompts included: learning from children, other cultures, nature, and from death.

She is survived by her husband of 60 years, J. Barkev Kassarjian, her daughter Sevanne Margaret Kassarjian, son-in-law Paul Griffin, grandsons Cyrus James and Anton Gregory Griffin, and her half-sister Nora Bateson.

In the spring, Mary Catherine Bateson's family will have a private tree planting to celebrate her life. In lieu of flowers, they invite everyone to make a donation to the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock: https://harriscenter.org/

"We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn." - Mary Catherine Bateson

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Monadnock Ledger-Transcript on Jan. 11, 2021.
Memories & Condolences
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11 entries
January 22, 2021
A profound mind and a generous soul. She touched our lives deeply and expanded our understanding in profound ways. Rest in peace, Catherine.
Stephen Tolle & Mahnaz Keshavarzian
Friend
January 17, 2021
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Woody & Chris Huntington
January 16, 2021
I just learned today of Mary Catherine's death. I am so glad we were able to have a conversation last month, not long after her birthday. I'm saddened that she died so young. I expected many more years of wit and kindness. She was the smartest person I have ever met and was an imp at heart. I always remember a game we made up and played a couple of decades ago about all the things Gresham's Law also applied to. In 2017 she wrote the Afterword for my book AfterNow: When We Cannot See the Future, Where Do We Begin? and I will treasure it all the more now. I miss you Mary Catherine.
Bob Stilger
Friend
January 15, 2021
So sorry, Vanni, to hear about your Mother’s death. You are in my thoughts and prayers!
Sending love, Joyce Cohen.
Joyce Cohen
Friend
January 14, 2021
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Babson College
January 12, 2021
Sevanne I am so sorry to read of your mother’s passing, you spoke so fondly of her. Covid brought you here for a reason. I am glad you got to spend this past year with her. My deepest sympathies to you and your family.
Donna Doran (Horseback friend from Hancock)
Acquaintance
January 12, 2021
Thank you so much for sharing so graciously of your wisdom.
Lois Johnson
Acquaintance
January 12, 2021
Mary was a lovely person who generously wrote kind words about my second book, and was beloved for offering a home to an impoverished but talented poet, also a friend of mine. What a great, long, accomplished life she had! And no one could be prouder of a daughter. Rest in peace, Mary, and thank you for what you gave to our world.
Sy Montgomery
Friend
January 12, 2021
I WAS DEEPLY SADDENED TO HEAR OF THE PASSING OF MARY CATHERINE. i WILL MISS OUR DSCUSSIONS OF FAITH, LIFE, POLITICS, AND ADULT II. HER MIND WAS FULL OF IDEAS AND CONNECTIONS THAT WERE AWESOME TO LISTEN TO. HER FAITH WAS EVOLVING AND DEEP. i WILL MISS MY FELLOW VILLAGER BUT KNOW SHE IS IN A BETTER WORLD OF CURIOSITY AMD DISCOVERY. BOB
BOB VECCHIOTTI
Friend
January 11, 2021
I am so sad to hear of Mary Catherine’s passing. I worked with her on several projects involving aging and public libraries and was always mesmerized by her deep, poetic style and sensibilities. The highlight of my experience with Mary Catherine was hosting her in Portland, OR for a talk she gave there. I wish I had acted sooner on an impulse to call her after my recent return to New England. I will always cherish Mary Catherine, her works, and her lasting contributions to humankind. May she Rest In Peace.
Stephen Ristau
Friend
January 10, 2021
Remembering the wonderful times with Cathy at the Harvard-Radcliffe Armenian Club!!! My husband and I send our heart-felt condolences,
Bethel Bilezikian Charkoudian
Friend
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