Lucy Wilson, 96, social activist, dance instructor



As an activist during the 1960s and the civil rights movement, Lucy Wilson demonstrated against the Vietnam War and was a proponent of women’s rights. As a lifelong advocate of political and social justice, she traveled to Nicaragua in 1985 with a group of New Yorkers who were concerned about the fate of the noncombatant population during the civil war.

“Lucy met ordinary Nicaraguans and visited an orphanage for kids displaced by the war,” said Jeff Perkell, a Boston photojournalist whose assignments took him to Nicaragua two years later.


Upon her return, he said, she and friends in New York City founded Citizens for Non-Intervention in Central America, which opposed US support of the attempt by the Contra rebels to topple the Sandinista government.

“On weekends she joined others in setting up bridge tables on Broadway on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to speak to people and hand out leaflets about the Contra war,” Perkell said. “Although people had strong emotions on the subject, and often called the people sitting at the bridge tables communist, Lucy was always polite and calm.”

Mrs. Wilson died of end-stage debility July 6 in Lasell Village in Newton, where she had lived for about 12 years. She was 96.

During the last 10 years of her life, she spent much of her time “reading about writing and doing some wonderful writing of her own,” much of it as part of a memoir writing course at Lasell Village, said Mrs. Wilson’s daughter, Katherine Koch of Hoboken, N.J.

“Whatever has helped me write more acceptably is, of course, important to me,” Mrs. Wilson wrote in one essay. “But even more important is the extent to which all that I have absorbed in our sessions with Pauline has sharpened my observation of the world around me.”


Mrs. Wilson’s son, John Koch of Cambridge, described his mother as “an activist until the end of her life.”

Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said, Mrs. Wilson started a peace advocacy group at Lasell Village with the mission to combat terrorism worldwide, and to encourage dialogues and authors on subjects such as atomic energy, war, and peace.

Mrs. Wilson had a history of activism about such subjects.

“Mother truly believed that people could change evilness in the world,” her daughter said. “She was a lifelong intellectual radical, and sometimes very active in various political movements of the day. Growing up, I went to many demonstrations with Mom. I remember accompanying her to a demonstration at Woolworth’s on Fifth Avenue in support of the Freedom Riders who went to Mississippi.”

During the early years of the Vietnam War, “I’d often meet her after work to walk to some large demonstration near the United Nations,” Mrs. Wilson’s daughter added.

Upon arriving at the demonstration, she said, Mrs. Wilson “shouted whatever slogan was being used, but most often critiqued the politics or coherence of whoever was giving a speech.”

Lucy Liveright was born in New Rochelle, N.Y., to Horace and Lucille (Elsas) Liveright. Her father was a publisher in New York who occasionally produced plays on Broadway.

‘She got furious at injustice and the inequalities she saw in our society [and] she did something about it.’

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Her son said that when Mrs. Wilson was growing up, she met famous authors “at parties or in the city for Sunday dinners, or on summer evenings at the family’s home in New Rochelle.”

At 12, she and her mother moved to Manhattan, where she graduated from Julia Richman High School. She spent a year at the University of Chicago and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from New York University.

In 1938, she married Sigmund Koch, psychologist and scholar, and both enrolled at the University of Iowa, from which Mrs. Wilson graduated with a master’s degree in French.

Her marriage to Koch ended in divorce in 1955. He died in 1996.

In 1968, she married Everett Wilson. They divorced in 1975.

“After our parents separated, Mom faced the challenges of raising two young children on her own with both grit, steadfastness and always doing things her own way,” Mrs. Wilson’s daughter said. “If she was a bit impractical, she also embraced her new life with courage and determination.”

When her son was at boarding school, Mrs. Wilson and her daughter moved back to New York City.

“Wherever we called home, whether it was a garage apartment, a suburban house, or a spacious one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, mom had a unique knack for making our surroundings both aesthetically pleasing and warm,” her daughter said.

Mrs. Wilson became fascinated by modern dance, her son said, and in her mid-50s graduated from Columbia University in New York with a master’s degree in gerontology. He said she “launched a career in movement therapy for the elderly, first in New York City and then in Cambridge.”

A petite and lithe woman, she moved in 1989 to Cambridge, where she worked with the Council on Aging and performed with the Back Porch Dance Company, an intergenerational group.

“Lucy would teach others or perform for them,” said Vicki Solomon, one of its directors. “She was a fiercely independent woman and a strong contributor to our program.”

Mrs. Wilson could be equally fierce about politics. Out of her trip to Nicaragua grew a sister-city project between New York City and Tipitapa, Nicaragua. That bond still exists, said Kathy Goldman of New York City, who also participated with the Citizens for Non-Intervention.

“Lucy was wonderful,” Goldman said. “She had a great sense of humor and was very smart. She got furious at injustice and the inequalities she saw in our society, not in just a tsk-tsk way, but she did something about it.”

A voracious reader who was fluent in French, Mrs. Wilson was a Francophile from the year she spent in Paris as a teenager. Years later, she returned to serve as a translator when her daughter-in-law, Sharon Koch of Cambridge, a radio producer, went to Paris to interview the dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Wilson had friends of all ages, said her grandson, Alexander Koch of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“She was one of my best friends, a human being whose curiosity could take conversations into funny and deeper realms,” he said.

In addition to her son, daughter, grandson, and daughter-in-law, Mrs. Wilson leaves a granddaughter.

A private memorial service will be held in October.

Though accomplished in many areas and outspoken about social issues, Mrs. Wilson was “not comfortably a public person and never felt any self-importance, never,” her son said. “She was modest, I’m afraid, to a fault.”

Gloria Negri can be reached at
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