Rosemary Littledale Rieser

Norwich, Vt. — Rosemary Littledale Rieser, 90, a resident of Norwich for 60 years who devoted her life to her family and community, died on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, at her home after a long illness.  She was surrounded by her children. 

Rosemary was born in Newark, N.J. on Sept. 20, 1922, to Clara and Harold Littledale, both journalists.  Her mother, a New Englander, was the editor of Parents Magazine.  Her father, who had emigrated from Wales, reported for the New York Post and New York Times.

Rosemary inherited the progressive values of her parents.  After a time at the Dartington Hall School in England, she attended Goddard College and met her future husband, Leonard M. Rieser, Jr., during a year at the University of Chicago.  They were married on July 16, 1944, and a short time later Leonard, a physicist who had enlisted in the U.S. Army, was assigned to the Manhattan Project in New Mexico.  Rosemary ran the Los Alamos nursery school during what was one of the most memorable years of their lives. 

It was while Leonard was a graduate student at Stanford University that their first son, Len, was born in 1948, followed by Timothy in 1952.  Later that year, after Leonard accepted a job as a physics instructor at Dartmouth College, Rosemary and he moved to Hanover, and the following year to the brick house on Main Street in Norwich, next to what is now the Norwich Historical Society.  Three years later daughter Abigail was born, and soon thereafter they bought the old white farm house and red barn at the corner of Elm Street and Hopson Road that would remain their home for the rest of their lives.

Over the next 30 years, while Leonard worked at Dartmouth, Rosemary put her family first.  As her son Len described it, “my mother told us that having had two professional parents who commuted to work in New York City, she wanted to be at home for her children.”  Her children remember her as an extraordinarily independent, selfless and principled woman who centered her life around her husband, children, friends and neighbors.

Rosemary was an accomplished gardener of flowers and vegetables, bread baker, apple sauce maker, expert knitter, and lover of books, animals and the outdoors.  She was known throughout Norwich for her daily walks around town with her dog, a constant fixture by her side, and over the years her home acquired a menagerie of beloved pets, from donkey to duck.

Rosemary dedicated many years to community service, as a justice of the peace who loved officiating at the wedding of her daughter and those of her children’s friends, as a volunteer at the Marion Cross School library, and with hospice, Planned Parenthood, and Meals on Wheels.  She was always caring for a friend or stranger in need.  As Heidi Johnston, a family friend from Hartland put it, “I will remember Rosemary as an amazing woman of endless warmth and compassion who made a point of befriending and helping others.”

In 1988, Rosemary and Leonard formally adopted Kenneth Willis, a classmate of Tim’s from the Putney School, who had been a part of their family since 1967. 

Rosemary had no patience for the formalities and pretentions of academia.  When her spousal duties required attending Dartmouth functions and she was asked that inevitable question, “So what do you do?,” she was known to reply, “I’m a farmer.”

Later in life Rosemary’s love and attention shifted to her three granddaughters.  As her namesake Rose, age 22, said as Rosemary’s death approached, “she’s been the best grandmother in the world.”

Rosemary is survived by her brother, Harold Littledale; children, Len, Tim and Abby Rieser and Ken Willis; granddaughters, Hope and Rose Farley and Isabel Rieser Chang-Muy; cousin, Nancy Denov; and nieces and nephews.  An open house in Rosemary’s memory will be held at the Rieser home on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.  In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Rosemary’s name to the Upper Valley Haven, the Alzheimer’s Association, or a charity of the donor’s choice.