A Life: Marjorie P. Soucy, ‘The Level of Concern She Had Was Rare’

  • Marjorie Soucy, right, in a scene from Bruce Cronin's 1976 short film "Henry Phipps Goes Skiing" with Priscilla and John Sargent. (Courtesy Bruce Cronin Productions)

  • Al and Marjorie Soucy enjoy a meal outside of their home in Unity, N.H., in 1996. (Family photograph)

  • Marjorie and Al Soucy in a 1950 photograph. (Family photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, September 23, 2018

Newport — If you arrived at Marjorie Soucy’s first-grade classroom without mittens, a hat, or a scarf, she’d knit them for you.

If the zipper on your jacket was broken, she’d take it home and sew on a new one; you’d be given a coat to borrow in the meantime.

If you forgot your lunch money or couldn’t pay that day, she’d offer a hearty snack from her bottom right-hand desk drawer.

“She did a lot of that over the years,” her son Alan Soucy said recently, “which I didn’t know at the time.”

That’s how Marj Soucy rolled — under the radar.

She didn’t do those things for recognition. She did them to help her Richards Elementary School students who were in need.

“These were lessons of compassion and respect that could not be taught on a chalkboard or in a book,” her daughter Margaret “Peggy” Ryan recalled recently.

Soucy, a mother of four, teacher to many, actress, singer and accomplished community volunteer, died on Aug. 1, 2018, following a period of declining health. She was 90.

Soucy, who was born in 1927 in Concord and grew up the daughter of a farmer and a paper mill worker in Massachusetts, knew from an early age that she wanted to teach. Perhaps it was her love for children, her daughter said. Nevertheless, she’d stop at nothing short of having her own classroom.

So after graduating from high school in 1945 and deciding not to purse a career in nursing like her mother had hoped, Soucy penned a letter and attached it to her application for entry into Keene Teachers College, now Keene State College.

Money was tight, but she’d do just about anything to attend, she wrote.

The letter crossed the desk of then-president Wallace B. Mason, who offered her room and board to cook, clean and take care of his young sons. She happily accepted to supplement her schooling.

At Keene, she met lifelong friend Priscilla Roberts, of Claremont, who went to school there under the same arrangement, as did Soucy’s sister, Priscilla Sargent.

“She was a very loving person and would do anything for anybody,” Roberts said.

Soucy also met her husband, Alphonse, at the college, who she would spend the next 58 years with.

Upon graduation, the pair moved to New London, where Al taught seventh and eighth graders while Marj taught youngsters in neighboring Sunapee.

In the early 1950s, the Soucys moved to Newport, where they continued their careers in education into the 1980s; Marj took a brief break to raise four children — Alan, Stephen, Jeanne and Margaret.

As a teacher, she was “very caring, yet strict,” recalled Jim Burroughs, the current Newport police chief who had Soucy as a first grade teacher in 1981. “She was conservative, graceful and fair” in her teaching.

Burroughs remained in contact with Soucy over the years, and the pair would often reminisce about the time he missed the bus after school and decided to walk five miles home at age 6.

She wasn’t happy, he said with a laugh.

“The level of concern she had was rare,” Burroughs said.

“She treated her classroom like her own children,” said fellow teacher Joan Willey, who referred to both of their teaching styles as a “little old-fashioned.”

“A scolding was a scolding but it ended there. Children behaved from that point on,” said Willey, a Newport resident.

In 1983, the Soucys were recognized for their decades of teaching and contributions to Newport when they were named Man and Woman of the Year.

“They belong in that exceedingly rare category (of) master teachers,” wrote Edward DeCourcy in an article on the award published in The Argus Champion.

“Her love for little children and her enthusiasm for teaching gave her prodigious energy, so much so that after teaching day after day she was still ready to plunge into a whole range of community activities, all of which she did well,” DeCourcy wrote.

Soucy was a member of the Newport Teachers Association, the Professional Women’s Club and the Newport Home Demonstration Club.

For several decades, she also was active in theater, taking the stage in plays at the Newport Opera House, performing in short films and singing in Newport-area choirs.

Soucy was well-known on stage, performing small and large roles in dozens of plays at the opera house. She performed in musicals, including the The Sound of Music and The Music Man, and comedies, like Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite.

“She took her roles very seriously,” recalled Newport resident Sandy Flint, a fellow performer and singer who co-directed the The Sound of Music. “She was simply a lady of grace, wisdom and charm.”

In addition to performing alongside one another at the opera house, Flint and Soucy sang together in the area choir, which is comprised of members from several area churches. Soucy, an alto, attended both St. Patrick Catholic Church and the South Congregational Church in Newport. Both musically inclined, she and her husband sang and played the piano during Sunday services.

“She had a wonderful tone and pitch and could always hit the right note,” Flint recalled. “And if you were struggling to do something, she was always there to help.”

Soucy held roles in two professional short-films shot, produced and directed by Bruce Cronin, a Newport resident.

Cronin was good friends with artist and actor John “Babe” Sargent, who was the husband of Soucy’s sister, Priscilla, and lived in Georges Mills.

“Babe” Sargent starred in both of the films that Marj and Priscilla had roles in: The Wild Goose (1973) and Henry Phipps Goes Skiing (1976).

The sisters’ larger roles were in the black and white film The Wild Goose, an 18-minute satire about aging in a nursing home and one man’s push to break free from the walls of confinement. They played nurses who had the job of imposing order, without using words.

“They did exactly what I wanted when performing, which was to exhibit this militaristic appearance … in both their facial expressions and way of handling their bodies,” Cronin said recently.

After retirement, the Soucys moved into a home on their son Stephen’s property in Unity and spent the winters in Edgewater, Fla. They had eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.

When reflecting on Soucy, Cronin referred to her as “complete.”

She raised a family, she had a profession, she was religious and she was community-minded, he said.

“I think that is a strong thing that can be offered — a person who really was fulfilled in so many different ways,” Cronin said. “But at the same time, not assuming.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.