BRENTWOOD - Priscilla "Polly" Nye MacMullen, of Brentwood, New Hampshire, passed away on Thursday, March 21, 2019 after a long, brave battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 60 years old, a woman of extraordinary toughness, courage and kindness.
Polly was born in Eugene, Oregon and for most of her childhood grew up in Clinton, Connecticut. The daughter of two Yale professors and sibling to two brothers and a sister, it was here where her life-long love of horses began.
Polly graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1976, a brilliant student and competitive athlete. A National Merit Scholarship recipient and winner of the Cox Medal, she won varsity letters in three sports. With her junior year spent in France through School Year Abroad, a passion for French was born.
Polly attended Yale University, where she worked with her typical fierce drive and discipline. She majored in French-and she would go on later to receive her masters at Middlebury College-and was a varsity swimmer for one year and a varsity lacrosse player for four years.
After graduation from Yale, and for over three decades, Polly was an extraordinarily committed French teacher. She taught for four years at Westminster School (Simsbury, Conn.) and then returned to her alma mater, where she would devote her life to teaching, advising and mentoring students. In the classroom, she was well known for being incredibly tough and demanding, with high of standards of performance and conduct. But she also had fun, and she did not give up on students, pushing them continually to new levels. She was just as hard on herself, preparing classes late into the night, correcting quizzes all Sunday, her break from work perhaps a walk in the woods with her dog or a few hours watching the New England Patriots. While she taught at the highest level, in her later years it was introductory classes that brought her the most joy. She loved the "light bulb" moments when a young student spoke a full sentence in French for the first time.
Polly cared deeply for her school. She held strong opinions, and in many ways she was the embodiment of Exeter's past and traditions. Colleagues had deep respect for her powerful work ethic, her passion for what was right, and for her stubborn principles-and also for her kindness, generosity and humor. She found enormous pleasure in her friendships on campus. Like all great boarding school teachers, she was involved in countless ways outside the classroom: she was as a dorm head; she coached varsity, j.v. and ninth-grade girls' lacrosse, finding particular pleasure in working with girls new to the sport; she was a part-time college counselor; and she served on both the Admissions and Discipline committees. In 1999, she was awarded with the Rupert Radford '55 Faculty Fellowship award.
Colleague and former head of school Tom Hassan shared: "In her own life and as a teacher, Polly held herself and her students to the highest standards. She faced life with sheer grit, tempered with great kindness. In doing so, she engendered the same level of hard work and integrity in all of us who knew and respected her. Maggie and I, as well as her many friends, colleagues and beloved pets, will miss her greatly."
And Polly had great passions and hobbies, and to all of them, she brought singular focus and energy. She was a terrific baker, bringing bread, muffins and cookies as house presents to friends and family. She was an avid gardener at her beloved farm in Brentwood, over the years steadily transforming the property with beds of perennials, drifts of daffodils and daylilies, and native trees. She loved dogs-and always Chesapeake Bay retrievers. But nowhere did her discipline, energy and love show more than with horses. Starting as a little girl and through her life, she bred, trained, showed, and rode. She took great pride-and found it amusing-that she was able to compete against the "big barns" with their professional staffs while she was mucking out her own stalls. She showed at the highest levels, in equitation and over fences. After she and her sister bought a home in Vass, North Carolina, she spent parts of winters there, trailering her horses down I-95 to ride wooded trails and train for shows from Florida to Massachusetts.
Polly was incredibly resilient, strong and brave. Her siblings often remarked that she was by far the toughest of all of them, and she fought setbacks-athletic injuries, knee surgeries, broken bones and concussions from falls from horses, and most of all cancer-- with a courage and determination that beggared description. Even as she suffered, she continued to live with energy and passion, with caring for others, and rare humor as well. No one who knew her was not inspired. And even as she suffered, she was always thinking of others, arriving at a house visit with fresh baked muffins, inviting families over so the children could pat her newborn foal, inquiring of her nieces and nephews and following visits with letters.
The MacMullen family is indebted to many for the love and kindness Polly experienced in her illness, especially from her retired colleagues Kathy and Roger Nekton and her loving neighbor Bill Whitehouse. Polly leaves her mother, Edith MacMullen; father, Ramsay MacMullen, and stepmother, Peggy MacMullen; Sandy MacMullen, brother; Willy MacMullen, brother; Lukey Nuthman, sister; Carla Jantos MacMullen, sister –in-law; Pam MacMullen, sister-in-law; six nieces and nephews; countless dear friends from Brentwood, Phillips Exeter, and Vass, North Carolina; and her two horses, Abby and Matt, and dog Monty.
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Published by Seacoastonline.com from Apr. 1 to Apr. 4, 2019.