Friends and Colleagues of Dorothy Mullen Remember Her As a Passionate Innovator
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: Dorothy Mullen, a founder of The Suppers Programs, an advocate of school gardens, and a producer of her own end-of-life educational program, died March 15. (Photo by David Kelly Crow)
By Anne Levin
Dorothy Smith Mullen, a well known local environmental, food, and health care activist, died of metastasized lung cancer in hospice care at her Princeton home on March 15. She was 64.
An innovator in the field of healing through healthy eating and home-grown produce, Mullen was a founder of the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative and the nonprofit Suppers Program, geared toward building a community of people whose health problems related to the dangers of processed food.
“There is only one Dorothy Mullen. She was a major leader in the community, advocating for people’s health and well-being,” said Adrian Hyde, the former executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA). “She was very sincere and selfless in her efforts. She was a very close friend of ours, and a lot of plantings from her garden are now at our farm.”
Mullen’s garden on Patton Avenue provided plantings to schools and other private gardens throughout the community. Passersby found scissors and signs inviting them to sample her produce. She lined her sidewalks with pots of herbs and divided perennials with notes urging people to help themselves to the plants.
Mullen held lunch and dinner meetings at her home among people whose physical and mental health problems were caused or exacerbated by processed food and a lack of health-focused social connections. That led her to earn a master’s degree in counseling at The College of New Jersey. The meetings developed into The Suppers Programs, which holds hundreds of gatherings annually. Mullen called Suppers “a hyper-local solution to a global problem.”
“How lucky I am to be able to express my gratitude for Dor,” said Lee Yonish, a current staff member at Suppers. “She was just a magical human being, one of the most special I’ve ever known. We were each other’s Jiminy Crickets. That’s what she used to call me, which was a massive compliment considering how wise and popular she was.”
Yonish said Mullen talked about blood sugar regulation before the medical community realized it was the underpinning of some chronic health issues. “She somehow knew the truth, never hesitated to share it, and never wavered in her wisdom,” Yonish said. “More than anyone, Dor gave me the clarity and the fuel to channel my passions. I know that many others feel this way, so I consider it a great fortune that I get to continue her legacy by developing future programming for Suppers.”
Mullen’s own physical problems were related to mercury exposure she suffered as a child due to mercury from dental work. After being diagnosed with non-smoking-related cancer in April 2019, she co-hosted a town hall meeting on dying at Princeton Public Library, wrote about the situation on the Suppers website and in US1, and produced more than 60 videos regarding end-of-life care, relationships, and decision-making.
“Dorothy was an original,” said Fiona Capstick, president of Suppers board of trustees. “I appreciated her original way of thinking, challenging conventional medical ways and reaching out to all sorts of people to collaborate, whether it was farmers, medical practitioners, or anyone else, to get to the roots of how to help people heal.”
Suppers Executive Director Marion Reinson described Mullen as generous, chaotic, innovative, selfless, and grounding. “I literally have a pot of bone broth on my stove right now,” she said. “My peas are in the ground. Because of Dor, we are eating better, gardening, and helping other people do the same.”
Mullen is survived by her brother, Stuart Smith, of Chelmsford, Mass., sister, Merilyn Sandberg, of Wallingford, Conn.; son, James, of Princeton; son, Max, of Longmeadow, Mass.; his wife Emily and their son Daniel; daughter, Viveka Claire, of Boston; her life-long friend and end-of-life care provider, Violet Tomlinson; and longtime companion, Roger Martindell.
People are invited to share stories, memories, and photos of Mullen at a special tribute site, dorothymullen.org.