Running for Office or Running Marathons: Phyllis Marchand Is an Active Participant
She is the longest-serving elected official on Princeton Township Committee. She indexed the Papers of Woodrow Wilson and the Letters of Samuel Johnson. She has run in 19 marathons. She continues to contribute to the community in numerous ways, by serving on boards and committees, and donating her time to a variety of organizations — all the while combatting a serious chronic illness, which has not diminished her drive or sapped her spirit.
Phyllis Marchand is one-of-a-kind, a role model for what women can achieve and how one person in a position of leadership while working together with others can make a difference for many.
A New Yorker, Ms. Marchand was born in Manhattan, and was the oldest of the four children of Morris (“Mo”) and Charlotte Steinberg. She was close to siblings Steven, Laura, and Susan, and also to both sets of grandparents who lived on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.
“My father’s parents were born in Romania, and my mother’s father was born in Russia,” recalls Ms. Marchand. “My maternal grandfather took my brother Steven and me out on Sundays to a place of interest, such as on the Staten Island Ferry to go to the zoo, or on a trip to Bear Mountain. My brother and I looked forward to these outings, and so did my grandfather. Since he was not born here, he was always interested in visiting new places.
“My maternal grandmother was educated, and played the piano. Music was an important part of my life, and my mother, who loved the opera, often took me to the old Met.
“My father was a millinery manufacturer, and had a company in Manhattan. ‘Phyllis’ and ‘Charlotte’ hats were two of their labels. He was also a big sports fan, especially for the New York Giants baseball team, and we’d go to the Polo Grounds to see them play. Later, after the Giants moved to San Francisco, I became a Mets fan. This has stayed with me, and I follow the Mets with a keen interest, staying up way past midnight to watch the games on the West Coast. I am also an avid fan of all the Princeton University teams.”
Growing up in New York City offers opportunities on a scale not found in many other places: Broadway plays at one’s doorstep; rides on the subway; watching the balloons blown up for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade; premier museums, opera, and many other cultural activities.
New York City children often develop an early self-sufficiency, and Phyllis was allowed to go on the subway by herself when she was 10; at 14, she went to Broadway shows with friends; she roller skated in Central Park, often skating to the park from her home on 86th Street on the West Side.
Phyllis also loved the movies, and was able to go nearly every weekend. She and her friends kept a careful eye on their favorite stars, clipping pictures from the movie magazines. “We all had photos of our favorites, and I especially loved Elizabeth Taylor and Arlene Dahl, and also Gregory Peck, Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, and Robert Wagner.
“I also loved all the popular songs of the time, and the singers, including Nat King Cole, Eddie Fisher, and Tony Bennett.”
Phyllis attended P.S. 9, the neighborhood public school, through the eighth grade, where she had a particularly memorable experience with her eighth grade teacher, Miss Laubenheimer. “One day, she gave us an assignment, and asked us to write down everything we did that day. After she read what we had written, she said: ‘You have all failed!’ No one had spent any time reading a newspaper. She said we must take time — at least 10 or 15 minutes each day — to read part of a newspaper. She even showed us how to fold it, so we could read it on the subway. She was a very strict and tough teacher, but we also had interesting class trips to The New York Times and other places.”
Attending high school at the private Birch Wathen School on West 93rd Street brought new experiences. French, biology, and English literature were her favorite subjects. “I was also a cheerleader for the basketball team — this was a very small school,” she remembers. “We had only 28 students in our class. I was chair of the social committee too, and was in charge of the senior prom.”
Interestingly, Ms. Marchand’s political focus had yet to emerge. Other activities and pursuits kept her busy, and among her happiest childhood memories were the times at camp in Maine, where she spent several summers.
“I loved going to camp, and I loved Maine. I got a real sense of the outdoors. The camp was on a lake, and there was swimming, canoeing, and hiking. We went up to Mt. Washington. I really loved the camp experience, being with the other girls, the competition, and being a team member. There were kids from all over. My best friend there was from Kentucky.”
The family also rented a house in Long Island at the ocean, where Phyllis learned to swim, and she remembers very happy times there.
After graduating from high school, Phyllis chose Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. As she explains, “My high school had been so small, and Skidmore had 1200 students, so it seemed a good fit.”
Majoring in English literature, Phyllis also had time to serve as managing editor of the college newspaper, (as well as to join a “sit-in” at the local Woolworth’s to advocate for civil rights). In her major, she was especially influenced by English Professor Miriam Benkovitz, later author of several books.
“Miss Benkovitz had a PhD from Yale, and her specialty was 20th century English literature,” says Ms. Marchand. “I was so afraid of her! She was from the South and was very intimidating. One time, it was very hot, and when I went into her class, I took off my shoes. She immediately ordered me to leave the classroom. She was very strict about proper behavior.
“She was a wonderful teacher though, and very exacting and demanding. My love of Virginia Woolf was a result of the modern English course I had with her. l had many courses with her, and when I was a junior, she asked me to be her assistant, helping to grade papers, which I did for two years. We remained in touch after I graduated, and she was certainly one of the most interesting people in my life.”
After graduating with a degree in English literature as well as a teaching certificate (she had taught eighth grade English in Saratoga Springs as part of her course work) in 1961, Phyllis returned to New York City, and got a job with Crowell-Collier Publishing.
“They were doing a major update of their encyclopedia, and because they thought I had enough terminology in various areas, such as music, sports, biology, etc. to index the new articles, I was hired. I learned how to index from a wonderful mentor there.”
After working at Crowell -Collier for more than two years, she moved to Cowles Comprehensive Encyclopedia, which was associated with Look Magazine, for another indexing opportunity.
During this time, Phyllis had met Lucien Simond Marchand, who worked for D. Van Nostrand Publishing in Princeton. “Sy was from Forest Hills, but had been born in Holland,” she recalls. “We had met at a beach club in Westchester County, where we liked to play tennis, and now we were dating.”
They were married in 1964, and Mr. Marchand continued to work in Princeton, doing a “reverse commute” to the couple’s home on West 34th Street. After their son Michael was born, they relocated to Princeton in 1966.
It was an adjustment. Other than camp in Maine, and her years at college, Ms. Marchand had never lived outside of Manhattan. “I never knew about having a house and all that it entailed, but I met a lot of people through the Newcomers Club at the YWCA. I began to have friends of all ages and background. The Newcomers Club was very important to me.”
Two more children, Deborah and Sarah, were born, and Ms. Marchand remained home to care for them. Then, as she recalls, “In the 1970s, when the kids were about six, seven, and nine, someone asked me what I had done in New York. I said I had been a book indexer. This person was working at Princeton University in connection with the Wilson papers, and suggested I send my resume to Professor Arthur Link, the Wilson authority, who was editing the papers. At that time, they were looking for an indexer.
“I had very little American history background, but I ended up getting the job. The nice thing was that I could work at home, which was very helpful with the children, and this provided a flexible schedule. I was considered a consultant or Visiting Fellow, and I did this during the ’70s, ’80s, and into the ’90s.”
As Ms. Marchand points out, indexing is very painstaking, exacting work, and in the days before computers were commonplace, she did the work by hand, using index cards for every entry.
Ms. Marchand continued to work on the Wilson papers into the ’90s, and she developed a high regard for Professor Link. “Arthur Link was extremely influential in my life. When he would praise my work, it was very special and meant a lot to me.”
Ms. Marchand became involved in numerous activities in the community, including serving on the board of McCarter Theatre (in addition to attending concerts and performances), the PTO at her children’s schools, and playing tennis and bridge. “Occasionally, I wrote letters to the papers about issues in town, such as traffic problems and open space,” she notes.
As her circle of acquaintances and friends expanded, Ms. Marchand was sought out as a political candidate. “I knew Barbara Sigmund, who was mayor of Princeton Borough,” she recalls, “and she suggested I run for Township Committee. We had a meeting with Kate Litvack, who served on Township Committee, and others, and they thought it was a chance to have a candidate with no baggage and a varied background. They knew I had kids in school, played tennis, was a member of the Jewish Center, on the board of McCarter, and was interested in preserving open space and in other issues.”
She became a candidate in the 1986 election, and won, receiving the most votes of any candidate. “I went house to house, introducing myself and talking with people. I had opinions on the issues, including regional planning, and the deer problem was beginning to get attention. I found I liked being on Committee. I did a lot of preparation, a lot of reading, and was liaison with the Recreation Board and Corner House. There was interaction with Borough Council too. Barbara Sigmund was mayor, and there was a nice working relationship then. Barbara was the town’s biggest cheerleader.”
Ms. Marchand also spent a lot of time listening. “Different groups and individuals came to meetings,” she remembers. “The Boy Scouts came to learn about local government, neighbors came to speak for or against issues, others came just to observe and listen. It was a real cross section of the community.”
Her ability to listen to differing opinions is noted by many of those who served and worked with Ms. Marchand. “I had the pleasure of working with Phyllis the entire time she was on Committee and served as mayor,” says Ed Schmierer former Township attorney and now attorney for the recently consolidated Princeton. “She was a very dynamic and caring individual. Her leadership style was as a consensus-builder, who worked hard to do the best she could for the community. She was a tireless worker — she brought her ‘marathon’ skills to the local government arena. She ran hard, and accomplished a lot.
“Phyllis was a very good listener; she respected the staff and listened to their recommendations, and challenged them when appropriate. The end of the day, she made the decisions. She had a tremendous amount of energy and commitment to Princeton, and was an absolutely outstanding municipal official.”
Adds former Township Mayor Richard Woodbridge: “When I became mayor in 1991, Phyllis was very supportive as a Township Committee member and a very good team player. Her legacy is that she is tremendously dedicated to the town, and was a very good and effective mayor. Also, if it weren’t for Phyllis and Kate Litvack, there wouldn’t have been a Princeton-Pettoranello program. She and Kate did the ground work in 1989.”
Ms. Marchand is very proud of the evolution of the Princeton Township relationship with its sister city Pettoranello, Italy. “It was a pleasure to see this develop, and it was a wonderful experience to travel there over the years and meet the citizens of Pettoranello.”
Eleanor Pinelli, former trustee and president of the Princeton-Pettoranello Sister City Foundation worked closely with Ms. Marchand during this time, and their association goes back even further. “Our friendship goes back many years because I taught her children when they were in the middle school. We worked together when Phyllis was mayor of Princeton Township, and I was a trustee and later president of the Princeton/Pettoranello Sister City Foundation. Phyllis was one of the mayors who founded the sister city relationship, and has remained a strong supporter of and advocate for the foundation and its mission.
“She was an excellent mayor, honest and forthright, a great speaker, who easily fielded questions concerning controversial issues because she ‘knew her stuff’. Phyllis was and still is always there when you need her, readily available and approachable. How she manages her daily busy schedule has always been a mystery to me!”
After serving as a Committee member since 1987, Ms. Marchand was elected mayor in 1989, and then again in 1994. During this time, she continued her work as a book indexer, both for Princeton University Press projects and many others, including books on the history of the Porsche car and a biography of Jefferson Davis.
During her tenure on Township Committee, she dealt with issues including preserving open space, affordable housing, traffic problems, and the emerging dilemma surrounding the increasing numbers of deer in Princeton.
“As mayor, I felt the Township mayor should be as visible as the mayor in the Borough. I tried to expand the activities, and I met with the County Freeholders and the state legislators in Trenton. There were issues about changing laws for hunting, getting support for the extension of Route 95, which would have diverted traffic from Princeton; also Route One traffic issues, and it was also important to build alliances throughout the region.
“I am very proud of initiating the deer management program, saving open space, and helping to develop a diversity of housing, including Griggs Farm and market rate senior housing. I do believe to be successful in any endeavor, including in local government, you must have an open mind and be willing to listen and be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You need empathy, and you also need to be able to make decisions.”
These are all qualities that Bill Dressel, Director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, found in Ms. Marchand during the time they worked together. “In her capacity as mayor of Princeton Township, Phyllis was actively involved in the League of Municipalities as a member of the legislative committee, the resolutions committee, a member of the executive board, and as League president.
“I have a high regard for Phyllis. She is an honest individual, who, I think, exemplifies that which is best in local governing. I very much enjoyed working with her because she was in municipal government for all the right reasons. She was instrumental in advocating for regional and statewide policies, including property tax relief, sharing municipal services, and traffic regulation of heavy trucks on Route 206. Phyllis represented the League on statewide policies.
“She was also a charter member of the League of Municipalities Women in Government Committee, and a strong advocate for sustainable energy practices. It was a real pleasure working with Phyllis. She was always willing to provide hands-on help, and to be there to assist and get involved one-on-one.”
During the time she was on Committee and as mayor, Ms. Marchand participated in another equally demanding endeavor: running marathons, the first in 1982, when she was 42.
“I started running because I wanted to lose a pound or two, and I also ran as a surrogate for my daughter, who had committed to a run in her middle school, but then couldn’t make it because of illness. I ran a mile, and afterward, I realized I could run the mile, and I liked it. I joined the Mercer-Bucks Running Club, and met wonderful people.
“I was basically a solo runner. I ran every day for enjoyment. Then, I entered the YWCA’s 3-mile race, then a 6-mile race, and I finished. Next came a half-marathon — 13 miles. Someone said to me, ‘If you finished this race, you could run a marathon.’ I thought about it and said to Sy, ‘I think I’d like to run a marathon.’ He said ‘Okay, just get a good pair of shoes.’
“Ultimately, I ran 16 New York marathons, two Boston, and one Philadelphia. One of the things I loved about running was that I could think things out, including about issues that were coming up with the Township. I was on the Planning Board, and ran by some of the sites under consideration. I could also report to Township Engineer Bob Kiser where all the pot holes were. It was first hand evidence.”
Ms. Marchand’s life changed dramatically in 2006, when she was diagnosed with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. As she explains, “It then progressed to Sezary syndrome, and these are both different stages of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.”
She began treatment immediately, and was still able to continue as mayor. It was a rigorous schedule, but she was determined to fulfill her term in office. She did step down in 2008, after having served 21 years on Township Committee, and 13 years as mayor.
During her tenure on Township Committee and after, Ms. Marchand has received numerous awards and honors. Among them are the YWCA Woman of Achievement Award, the Elected Official of the Year from the New Jersey Municipal Managers Association, Humanitarian Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, President’s Distinguished Service Award from the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the Philip Forman Humanitarian Award from the American Jewish Committee, and she was recognized by the New Jersey Association of Elected Women Officials for her service as president of that organization.
Most recently in September 2012, she was honored for her “exemplary and inclusive tenure as mayor” by the Princeton Chabad. She has also been invited to speak to students at her high school and college about the role of women in local government.
Ms. Marchand continues to keep a very busy schedule despite a recent additional medical problem. “In 2011, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma,” she explains, “so in 2011 and 2012, I was battling two different lymphomas. I had chemotherapy and radiation at that time, and now the Hodgkins lymphoma is in remission.”
The non-Hodgkins lymphoma requires continuous and rigorous medical intervention, however, necessitating trips to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital two consecutive days each month for photopheresis blood treatment, as well as self-administered injections of interferon twice a week to boost her immune system.
Despite this, Ms. Marchand remains positive and engaged. She currently serves on the State D & R Canal Commission, the D & R Greenway board, on SIAB — the New Jersey Site Improvement Advisory Board, and on the county board of the Mercer Council for Alcohol and Drug Addiction. She is an honorary trustee of McCarter Theatre, and she is also an advocate for Planned Parenthood, the Coalition for Peace Action, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, and Cancer Care.
When she did decide to step down from Township Committee, she was ready for a new life, reports Ms. Marchand. “Now, I could visit my eight grandchildren; I could do what I wanted when I wanted; I could read what I wanted, not what I had to.
“Music is important to me — I would have loved to meet Leonard Bernstein! — and I have enjoyed going back to the concert series at McCarter. I’m playing more bridge, and doing a lot more walking and hiking and an occasional run. I have time now to smell the flowers, and to visit friends here and elsewhere. I am enjoying old friendships that I didn’t have time for when I was mayor.
“I have also had an interesting experience with a program at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School,” she continues. “Two first year medical students are teamed with a seriously chronically ill patient as part of their training. These two students, one male and one female, shadow or follow the patient to appointments and treatments, even at home, and get to know the patient as a person. The goal of the program is to sensitize new doctors and encourage them to put themselves in the patient’s shoes. What is it like to have a chronic illness? How does it affect your professional life? Your finances, your relationship with a spouse, family, friends, or with yourself? You’re not just a number on a chart.”
Undaunted by illness, she is, as her friend of long-standing Pam Hersh, vice president of Government and Community Affairs of Princeton Healthcare System, notes, steadfast and determined. “I have known Phyllis for 35 years, since I first came to Princeton, and I can list her most memorable quality. She has an incredible ability to hang in there. On a social level, this translates to an inability to leave — she has the toughest time leaving a party, leaving a meeting, leaving a conversation — much to the consternation of her husband who stands waiting with his coat on for an hour while Phyllis is trying unsuccessfully to say good bye.
“This same quality of always hanging in there through the most difficult political, professional, and personal challenges of her life is her most laudable quality. Nothing deters her from going forward and fighting the battles that are important for her to fight. One of the most fun and rewarding battles that we fought together (along with former Borough Mayor Marvin Reed and former Princeton University General Counsel Howard Ende) was saving the Garden Theater — certainly an endeavor that was well worth it for the University students, for the Princeton residents, and of course, for Phyllis, who rarely misses a movie at the Garden.”
Traveling has been a great pleasure over the years for Ms. Marchand, and she and her husband have visited numerous countries around the world — experiencing safaris in Africa, the fjords in Norway, the islands of Hawaii, and the pleasures of Pettoranello, among many other places. And she looks forward to more travels to come.
Facing a serious illness has given her a new perspective, says Ms. Marchand. “You only have one life to lead. I realize how wonderful it is to have a family. When I was going through chemotherapy, one of my daughters went with me to cheer me up when I was getting my hair cut very short before I lost it. It was hard, but she kept a light touch, saying: ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity’, quoting from Ecclesiastes.
“Basically, now I feel well, and every day is a gift. This experience makes you appreciate life even more. I feel blessed.”