One of the Portland Museum of Art’s most ardent supporters died Sunday at her home on Portland’s Eastern Promenade.

Rosalyne Bernstein

Rosalyne Spindel Bernstein, who was known to friends and family as Roz, died one week after her 90th birthday.

Bernstein, the widow of well-known Portland lawyer Sumner Bernstein, served for six decades on the Museum’s board of trustees.

She also served as the organization’s president from 1979-81. During that time, she co-chaired the steering committee that raised funds for the construction of the Charles Shipman Payson Building – the landmark structure that stands at the corner of High Street and Congress Square. The Payson Building opened in 1983.

“We are deeply saddened to learn about the passing of one of our most beloved trustees, Rosalyne Spindel Bernstein,” the museum said in a statement issued Wednesday evening.

“Roz was one of the Museum Five, a group of five women, including her close friend, the late Peggy Osher, who were integral to making the Portland Museum of Art the institution that it is today,” the statement said. “The legacy that she leaves, especially due to her steadfast and tireless work and advocacy on behalf of the museum’s collections, cannot be overstated. Her contributions to the Portland Museum of Art will be forever recognized and she will be missed by all who had the honor of knowing her.”

The Museum Five were dedicated to making the museum a cultural and educational destination in downtown Portland, said Owen Wells, a past president of the museum. His wife, Anna Wells, served on the museum board with Bernstein and said she was the group’s last surviving member.

Owen Wells is now vice chairman of the Libra Foundation’s board of directors and said the foundation gave $2 million to the Portland Museum of Art in honor of the Museum Five. He said a gallery at the museum is named after the women.

Bernstein was a particularly strong advocate for the museum, and made an positive impact on Portland’s cultural life, Owen Wells said.

“Roz was one of the brightest women I have ever known. She had an interest in so many things,” he said.

According to her family, Bernstein was the daughter of immigrant parents – Harry Spindel and Bertha Lehrer Spindel. Born in New York City on Dec. 22, 1928, she attended Radcliffe College, which has merged with Harvard University, graduating in 1950. That is where she met her future husband, Sumner Thurman Bernstein of Portland.

The couple moved to Portland in 1950 and never left the city. Sumner Bernstein died in 2002.

“Roz” Bernstein is credited with expanding opportunities for women and the Jewish community in Maine.

Bernstein’s daughter, Beth Bernstein Schneider, who lives in London, England, said her mother’s lifetime devotion to public service and giving back to the community was inspired by her parents. When they arrived in the United States, Bernstein’s parents took jobs in knitting factories.

“She had immigrant parents, who felt they were incredibly lucky to live in the United States,” Schneider said. “They felt they had an obligation to do good in the world and my mother spent her life doing just that.”

Schneider said her mother’s parents also impressed upon her the importance of education, a value that led to a lifetime of learning.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, which awarded Bernstein an honorary degree for her accomplishments in education and public service, sent a letter Thursday from President Clayton Rose to the Bowdoin community announcing Bernstein’s death.

Rose called her a “remarkable person” who expanded opportunities for women as well as the Jewish community in Maine.

“Roz advised six Bowdoin presidents, including me,” Rose wrote. “She was elected to Bowdoin’s Board of Overseers in 1973 – one of the first two women to serve on that board. In 1981, she was the first woman elected to the Bowdoin board of trustees, and she remained actively engaged in the affairs of the college after becoming a trustee emerita in 1997.”

Rose said that through the Harry Spindel Memorial Lecture Fund and the Bertha Spindel Library Book Fund, Bowdoin College celebrates the lives and spirit of Bernstein’s parents and their love of learning and Jewish culture. In 1995, Roz and Sumner Bernstein established a scholarship fund that benefits Bowdoin students.

“The breadth and depth of her contributions to Maine, the region and the country are remarkable,” Rose wrote. Bernstein also co-founded Head Start in the Portland Public Schools and served three terms on the Portland School Committee, including one term as committee chair.

When she stepped down from the school committee in 1972, the Portland Press Herald published an editorial, headlined “She Made Waves,” that praised her service. Bernstein eventually earned a law degree in 1986, at the age of 58.

Funeral services will be held Friday at Congregation Bet Ha’am, 81 Westbrook St., South Portland. The service will start at 10 a.m.

The family is asking that contributions be made in Bernstein’s memory to the Portland Museum of Art, the Rosalyne and Sumner Bernstein Scholarship Fund at Bowdoin College, and to Congregation Bet Ha’am.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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