Beverly Maisel Manne died on October 22, 2020, in Houston, Texas, at age 94. Whatever the official cause of death was, Beverly probably had it right: “I’m a decrepit old lady!” She had a very long and complete life and died with no regrets, knowing that she was deeply loved. Born on April 11, 1926 in Poughkeepsie, New York, she was the child of recent immigrants from Eastern Europe. Her father Joseph Maisel died when she was a young girl. Her mother Rose (Eisner) Maisel raised Beverly and her two older brothers during the Great Depression. In an era when women were not expected or permitted to do much outside the home, Beverly was ambitious. At 17 she enrolled at Russell Sage College, studied nursing, and became a registered nurse. She enlisted in the Cadet Nurse Corps, a uniformed program of the U.S. Public Health Service to address the shortage of civilian nurses during World War II. Beverly was proud of being an RN. Even late in life, when someone said that Beverly had been a nurse, she corrected them: “I am a nurse.” To be closer to Richard “Dick” Manne, whom she had met when he was a student at Yale, Beverly moved from Chicago to Houston in 1947. She worked at the original Hermann Hospital at a time when unmarried nurses were required to live in a dormitory at the hospital. She solved that problem in September 1948, when she married Dick and moved to Baytown, where he was a research chemical engineer for what is now ExxonMobil. Beverly and Dick had a wonderful 48-year marriage until his death in 1996. They had three sons: Roger (who predeceased them), Neal and Burton.
Beverly was the Cub Scout den mother who always had homemade cookies for the kids in the neighborhood but also the one who taught them anatomy by dissecting dead animals on her kitchen table. She reveled in her eccentricity. Once her boys were in school, Beverly went back to college, first at Lee College in Baytown and then at the University of Houston, where she received a degree in Sociology, with a focus on nutrition. She was a great cook, working her way through decades of issues of Gourmet magazine. She liked to work in her garden, raise chickens (with whom she had long conversations), go crabbing in Burnet Bay, host feasts at the China Garden restaurant, and go on long family road-trips, though she considered it her duty to ride out hurricanes at home. Dick had no interest in skiing, so she went on ski trips without him each winter. She loved the performing arts, especially the Houston Ballet. Some days she took her children out of school for an afternoon of theater or museums in Houston, telling their school principals dryly, “I’m taking my kids out of school today so they’ll learn something for a change.” She believed in reading, education, and self-improvement. She was rarely without a book, and well into her 90’s she read three newspapers every day. An early adopter of the internet, she kept in touch with friends and family via email and had been planning to buy a new computer just before her final illness. She loved learning about history, especially the American civil war, and favored Presidential biographies. She noted recently that she was born closer to Andrew Jackson’s election in 1832 than she was to the 2020 elections.
Beverly was unconventional and down-to-earth. She did not care much about social niceties and had no time for snobs. She was totally at ease visiting with a friend in a shotgun house in the 5th Ward or Barrett Station. She knew who she was, what she believed, and what was important to her. Her jobs illustrated her commitment to helping others. In addition to her various nursing jobs, she helped found and run a network of senior citizen nutrition centers in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, including the first free lunch program in Harris County; she helped found and run a program to provide group living for young women with mental disabilities; she helped run a program for the hearing disabled; and she worked for MD Anderson Cancer Center as a field interviewer to collect data for cancer research. In 1965 she became the nurse at a summer camp in the mountains of North Georgia. The beloved friends she made working there as “Nurse Bev” for 9 summers remained very important to her for the rest of her life. Each summer, parents dropping off their children at camp were puzzled by the nurse whose official name tag said “Clara Barton.”
Beverly cared deeply about politics, never failing to vote in an election. She never voted the straight ticket because, as she put it, “It’s much more fun to vote for each Democrat separately.” She was a feminist before the word existed, far ahead of her time. Her husband Dick took no offense at one of Beverly’s favorite t-shirts, which proclaimed that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” In her toughness and independence, she was an inspiration to many women, including her daughters-in-law and granddaughters. Beverly’s candor was sometimes blunt but never unkind.
Beverly had a natural stoicism that served her well when life threw her curveballs. Whether it was surviving cancer in her 40s, losing a child, or being widowed, nothing changed Beverly’s calm but joyous approach to life. Other people’s impatience was not her concern; she did not operate according to conventional Western notions of time. Her family and friends learned to adapt.
When her husband Dick died in 1996, Beverly began living in Houston part-time, and eventually moved there. She maintained her independence, traveling widely, and becoming a savvy stock market investor. In her final years, living at Belmont Village, her nursing instincts remained: she often spent time encouraging fellow residents who were physically or cognitively infirm. For many years she had worked as a volunteer to help Alzheimer’s patients. She was delighted that she never became one. For the last decade of her life, she decorated her apartments with “DNR” notices as if they were fine art. Her announced plan was to die from consuming too much dark chocolate, and she did her best.
Beverly was an active member of Baytown’s Congregation K’Nesseth Israel. She worshipped there with her family since 1948, celebrating holidays and enjoying the friendship and fellowship of Baytown’s small but resilient Jewish community. For decades she provided flower arrangements at the synagogue each Friday night, but insisted that they then be taken to a beloved friend’s church for Sunday church services. Having lost much of her Eisner family in the Holocaust, Beverly cared deeply about her Jewish heritage, social justice, and racial justice. She made several trips to Israel, including to visit some Eisner first cousins whom she learned in the 1990s had survived the Holocaust.
Beverly is survived by her son Neal Manne, his wife Nancy McGregor, their children Benjamin Manne (wife Mackenzie and son Ezra), Elisabeth Manne, and Olivia Manne (fiancé Nick Carullo); and by her son Burton Manne, his wife Jane, and their children Emma and Richard. Beverly leaves behind other relatives including her sister-in-law Bobbie Manne, nephew Geoffrey Manne, niece Emily Manne, grand-nephew Philip Maisel, and cousin Shulamit Laron. Beverly considered Doug McGregor to be her “honorary son” and loved him and the entire McGregor family. Her family is deeply grateful to Irene Guevara, who provided assistance and friendship to Beverly for the past 4 years.
Beverly would have disdained flowers and memorial gifts or donations, but two of her favorite charities were the Houston Food Bank and the Houston Area Women’s Center. Because Beverly loved a party, a virtual memorial celebration of her amazing life will be held in early November.