HANCOCK POINT – Betty Mack Silvestro, 89, died unexpectedly Oct. 14, 2010, at her home. She was born in Bangor, the daughter of Frank J. Mack and Grace Mack. A precocious student, she graduated from Bangor High School at 16 years of age. She immediately began her college career at the University of Maine, Orono. In summer 1939, after completing her sophomore year, she traveled to France to study French at the Institute de Touraine, University of Poitier, in order to become sufficiently fluent in French to enter the Sorbonne in the fall. When World War II began Sept. 3, 1939, the American consulate urged all its nationals to leave France immediately. She witnessed the recently mobilized French troops departing for the front lines as the distraught, weeping women waved their good byes. Without ration books or reserved return passage to the U.S., she, together with other nationals from the U.S. and Latin America, pooled their resources to purchase a second-hand automobile in order to drive to Toulouse in the hope of obtaining passage on any ship leaving France. Upon their arrival, with no prospect of selling the car to recover their cost, they drove it off the pier. She and her friends were able to book passage to New York on a ship that had never crossed the Atlantic. Unfortunately, the Atlantic crossing was stormy. Undoubtedly due to her sea-faring ancestors, she was one of the few who did not suffer from seasickness. Thus able to monopolize the attention of the few young men immune to the rough seas, she later reported to her mother she danced her way across the Atlantic, and had a ball. She returned to the University of Maine and graduated in 1941. From 1941 to 1943 she taught French and Latin at Eastport High School. From 1944 to 1945 she was employed at Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and simultaneously was matriculating at Boston University, where she received her Master of Arts degree in history in 1946. From 1946 to 1949 she was an instructor in history at Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Conn., where she taught Russian cultural and intellectual history, and the history of Europe. In 1949 she began her doctoral studies in Russian and East Asian history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis. On June 26, 1950, she and her husband, who was also a graduate student, were married in the home of then university president, E. B. Fred and his wife. She was employed as an editor at the U.S. Armed Forces Institute, Madison, Wis., 1953-1954, and was a teaching assistant in the University of Wisconsin history department, 1950-1953. From 1955 to 1956, she taught history in the fields of her expertise at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass. In 1959 she received her doctorate in Russian and East Asian studies from the University of Wisconsin, together with her husband, who received his doctorate in American history. It was the first occasion that a woman and her husband were simultaneously awarded their doctorates from the University of Wisconsin. Stories about their achievement were published in the Madison (Wis.) Capitol Times and the Milwaukee (Wis.) State Journal. In 1964 she was appointed assistant professor of history at Loyola University of Chicago, where she taught various courses on the political, cultural and intellectual history of Russia; history of East Asia; contemporary China; history of the Ottoman Empire; and imperialism. In summer 1970, she participated in a special study group on the arts of Japanese Buddhism, under the auspices of the University of California, in Kyoto, Japan. In 1971-1972 she taught at Loyola University’s Rome Center. During the spring break, she escorted a group of her students on a tour to Russia, and spent most of her time rescuing from the police, students attempting to capitalize on the favorable exchange rate of the U.S. dollar over the Russian Ruble. In 1975, she retired from teaching when her husband was appointed the founding director of the Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington, Mass. She assisted him in the development of several major history museum exhibits and was co-author of the catalog, “A Decade Of Collecting Maps,” 1985. In 1992 she retired to her family homestead at Hancock Point. She was a volunteer at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, Ellsworth, and was active in Hancock Point Club d’Hiver. In addition to her husband to whom she was married for 60 years, Clement M. Silvestro, she leaves a daughter, Elizabeth Casner of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and her husband, A. James Casner; a grandson, A. James Casner III, a senior at Concord Academy, Concord, Mass.; a sister, Jean Mack Johnson of Hancock Point and her husband, Kenneth S. Johnson; several nieces and nephews. Her brother, Frank J. Mack Jr. of Bangor, predeceased her. Funeral services will be private. Contributions in her memory may be made to Hancock Union Congregational Church UCC, P.O. Box 98, Hancock, ME 04640 or Maine Coast Healthcare Foundation, 50 Union St., Ellsworth, ME 04605. Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.
BETTY MACK SILVESTRO
Posted Oct. 20, 2010, at 7:21 p.m.