Florence Gootenberg

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Florence Gootenberg, age 100, died peacefully, surrounded by her family, at the Cohen-Rosen House in Rockville, MD.

Born Aug. 20, 1923, to Sydney and Eva Nathanson in Montreal, Quebec, her Jewish wine merchant family moved first to Windsor, Ontario, then to Detroit before settling in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the mid-1930s.

She attended Brooklyn’s legendary James Madison High School, where she first met her future husband, Roy Gootenberg, and graduated with honors from Brooklyn College among the nearly all-female WWII-era class. Florence was in many ways ahead of her time in her life-long professional and artistic pursuits.

For example, she was active in post-war day care centers in Coney Island (where she knew progressive icons such as Woody Guthrie). She later wrote about institutionalizing childcare policies in her Boston University Master’s thesis. She soon became a pioneer in the new field of educating children with developmental disabilities.

After moving to Maryland in the 1950s, she became a beloved dedicated teacher of special needs children for over four decades. She also lovingly raised her own children: Joseph, a physician; Paul, a historian, and Amy, a teacher and former actress. However, she was most proud of her cognitively disabled daughter, Nan. Florence ensured Nan was mainstreamed in the Montgomery County school system; Nan then had a successful 37-year career as a clerk at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Florence’s joyful home life flourished in the beautiful mid-century house and gardens that she and her husband, Roy, built in the wooded community of Garrett Park, MD, and preserved for some 60 years. She loved sculpture and painting. She and Roy filled their home with artwork, and she continued making brightly colored art up until her passing.

Florence enchanted everyone with her spark for life, curiosity, warmth, generosity and humor. She is survived by her children Joseph (Susan Leibenhaut), Paul (Laura Sainz), Amy, and Nan; her grandchildren Eva, Jesse, Julia, David, Jonathan, Danyal and Léa, and four great-grandchildren. Her husband predeceased her in 2000.

Contributions in her memory may be made to Makom, 1600 East Jefferson Street, Rockville, MD 20852 (makomlife.org/donate), a non-profit that empowers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. So long Mom: we, and all who knew you, loved and adored you!

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