In May, when alumni took a traditional walk across the campus of Mount Holyoke College during their 30th reunion, Rogina Jeffries accompanied them on an electric scooter that was driven by her 10-year-old son, Philip.
Cancer had limited her ability to walk and talk, but she still approached life with the spirit that had been her trademark.
“It was the most precious thing,” said Rebecca Lloyd, a friend and college roommate. “She was determined to have a great time, and she did. We all did.”
Mrs. Jeffries, a former software engineer at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, died of kidney cancer Nov. 11 in her Beacon Hill home. She was 53.
Lloyd recalled that Mrs. Jeffries, who had been a physics major at Mount Holyoke, was “so smart and creative.”
Mrs. Jeffries also had been deeply involved in extracurricular activities that did not normally attract science students, such as working backstage on theater productions and serving as editor of the college newspaper, Lloyd said.
“Every week she would pull an all-nighter to get the paper out,” Lloyd said. “She was always crazy busy, but she was good at it all and she loved it.”
Rogina Louisa Haase was born in New York City and grew up in the Upstate New York communities of Cobleskill and West Winfield. She graduated from Mount Markham High School in West Winfield and from Mount Holyoke in 1982.
After college, Mrs. Jeffries went to work as a software engineer for Lincoln Laboratory.
Her supervisor, David Harrison, said Mrs. Jeffries was “easy to work with, competent, and very effective.” She worked mainly on satellite surveillance efforts and traveled often to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to help with the installation of a new camera that was part of a space surveillance program.
She also worked on the development of a space-based sensor that was installed on a satellite that was launched in 1996 and operated for 13 years.
During that project, Mrs. Jeffries prepared a manual that described inner details of the program and was consulted daily, Harrison said.
“Even as the sensor began to age,” he added, “her contributions continued to be of value.”
As was the case in college, Mrs. Jeffries combined her work in science with an interest in the arts. She was designing costumes for a production of “Babes in Arms” at the Kresge Little Theater at MIT when a mutual friend introduced her to Stephen Jeffries.
He helped her take down the set after the final show, and they began dating soon afterward, marrying in 1989.
After about a decade working at Lincoln Laboratory, Mrs. Jeffries retired to focus on volunteer work and raising a family.
She was involved with the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Architects, the Junior League of Boston, and several yacht clubs, as well as the Beacon Hill Garden Club and the Advent Garden Guild of the Church of the Advent on Beacon Hill.
A dog lover, Mrs. Jeffries also assisted the Delta Society, a pet therapy organization, and often visited nursing homes with her standard poodle.
She was a trustee of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, based in Oyster Bay, N.Y., and created and maintained the organization’s website.
While pregnant with her first child in 2000, she learned that she had a kidney tumor. Doctors removed the tumor a week after the birth of her daughter, Julia. Philip was born two years later.
“That was the happy medical honeymoon,” her husband said.
He added that five years after her surgery, tests showed that the cancer had returned and spread.
For the next seven years, Mrs. Jeffries underwent treatment while remaining active in her children’s lives and schooling, and her volunteer work.
Diana Coldren of Beacon Hill, whose children attended school with the Jeffries children, admired her friend’s “determination, resilience, witty sense of humor, thoughtfulness, dependability, and devotion to her family.”
Coldren knew Mrs. Jeffries had cancer, but said her friend “wouldn’t allow it to define her” and added that “even when she was mostly confined to her bed, she never complained.”
Mrs. Jeffries also took a particular interest in a boy she and Coldren knew who was being treated for leukemia.
“Even when she could barely speak anymore,” Coldren said, “she would ask about my friend’s child.”
Roger Mallery, an uncle of Mrs. Jeffries, said that as a child, she was a great athlete who enjoyed putting on plays with cousins.
“She was always very active and very hard-working,” said Mallery, who lives in Cobleskill, N.Y. “She was just a wonderful person.”
Mrs. Jeffries was a “very hands-on mom” who loved to throw big parties, her husband said.
Between complicated treatments and surgeries, he said, she continued finding ways to enjoy life to the fullest.
“She never once said, ‘This is unfair,’ or ‘Why me?’ She just kept doing everything she wanted to do for as long as she could do it,” he said.
A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Jan. 12 in the Church of the Advent in Boston.
Mrs. Jeffries could always be counted on to help out in a crisis, friends recalled.
Coldren said she once “called Rogina in a panic” because she needed 700 hot dog buns for a neighborhood block party.
“She immediately offered to pick up all 700,” Coldren said. “I will never forget her pulling up with her minivan full of hot dog buns. And of course she was as calm as could be.”Kathleen McKenna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.