Sally Backman Powers of Needham, passed away peacefully at home in August 17, 2021. She was 93 years old.
Born Sally Louise Backman, raised in Newton Corner in a family of five sisters, a lifelong member of the “Pegotty Beach Bathing Beauties” Sally graduated from Newton High School and Vassar College. In 1950 she married her husband and companion for the next 68 years, William M. Powers, also from ‘The Corner’. The first of their three sons, William J. Powers, was born in 1951 followed by Theodore B. (1956) and Benjamin E. (1962). In 1960 her husband became the Superintendent of Schools and the family moved to Needham, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Sally continued her education while raising her kids and earned her Masters’ degree as a reading specialist. When Ben was old enough to attend school she began a long career with the Newton Public Schools. She continued to tutor children in her home for many years after her retirement.
Sally had many interests and pursued them all with vigor. She loved the outdoors all her life. From childhood summers on the beach in Scituate she became a strong, skilled swimmer who used her life-guard training to save people several times over the years. She was able to swim for hours in the frigid waters off Pegotty beach where, as her sister Judy noted, “The trick was to get all the way in and stay underwater until you were numb. Then you were OK.” With her sisters, her summer job was to rake Irish moss from those same waters. Sally was a skilled tennis, squash and badminton player who passed her skills on to her sons. She loved hiking or skiing with family and friends and could spend hours tending her garden.
Sally had a strong appreciation for the arts and exposed her children to the visual arts, literature, music, theater and dance that she enjoyed her whole life. She loved nothing better than to gather around the piano with family and friends and sing, and she always “knew all the words”. Perhaps because her godmother was Edna St. Vincent Millet she loved --- and could recite from memory --- poetry. She also loved to pass on family aphorisms --- such as “You’ve got to paddle your own canoe.” and “There are many paths up the mountain.” --- at pertinent moments.
Family and the values espoused by her parents and ancestors were a key part of who Sally was and she often shared family anecdotes and their significance with her children. Both sides of her family immigrated to pre-Revolutionary America from Germany, Scotland, and Switzerland. One notable ancestor, Emily Geiger, was a heroine of the Revolution whose image can be seen on North Carolina’s state seal. Her mother’s grandparents, Hezekiah and Nancy Geiger, ran a stop on the underground railroad in Ohio before the Civil War. Hezekiah was also a noted mathematician and geologist who helped create Wittenberg University. In the 1930’s Francis Backman resigned her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution when that organization refused to allow Marion Anderson to sing at Carnegie Hall because she was African American. Sally was raised to believe that all people are created equal and deserve equal rights, liberty and justice. She had a keen sense of fairness and a strong moral code that she instilled in her children and grandchildren.
Sally put her beliefs into action throughout her life; teaching children who would otherwise struggle to read as well as giving her time and energies to her church, community and extended family. She was especially proud of her work with the Guatemala Project at her UCC church. Well after she retired, she hiked through mud and jungle carrying school supplies to a small village in Guatemala that had no school at all due to frequent raids by both the government and rebel groups. The school she helped establish now has teachers were students in the village’s first class teaching the next generations. With and without her husband Sally was an active presence in her community. While serving on the Needham Library’s board of trustees she pushed for the new building that now exists. She served on the League of Women Voters and the Newton Teachers Association and volunteered at the community center. Sally was a member of the Longwood Cricket Club and the Maugus Club, where she played tennis and squash. She also took yoga classes into her nineties. As mentioned, Sally (along with her sisters and their friends) was a lifelong member of the Pegotty Beach Bathing Beauties. A quick sample of the lyrics of their theme song (Sally and her sisters ‘know all the words’): “We are the Pegotty beach bathing beauties, don’t you think that we are cuties?” Sally and her sisters (Ann, Nancy, Jean and Judy) were close friends and the core of a large extended family of cousins. As a group they were vibrant and hilarious but also formidable. A cousin who transgressed with his or her mother would hear from one or more aunts, or worse from all the aunts at once.
Sally enjoyed spending time with her family; her husband, her sons and their wives and later, her beloved grandchildren, Jesse Zacrow (with husband Tom) and Nick Creedy Powers. She treasured her friendships and had a large, vibrant social group, with many memorable gatherings. The strength of these connections was shown when friends and family visited and kept in touch with her through her last days. She felt that she was blessed to have so many good friends in her life.
Lastly, Sally made a positive change in the world around her: Teaching children, her own and others, giving her talents and energies to her friends, family and community, sharing her vitality, strength and compassion and living to the fullest has left a lasting legacy of a singular life and warm memories of the woman we loved.
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