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Vivienne Black Nemerson

posted: Jan 16, 2018 7:34 am

Unique and irreplaceable, Vivienne, left us Jan. 14, 2018.

Her last two years were challenged by health issues after more than 80 years of high energy, but she carried on with characteristic grit, humor, and a bit too much concern for other people’s needs and comfort. She died peacefully, with her son Matthew and her dear friend Jayne Maugborne by her side.

Born in 1931, she was raised in Detroit during hard times, anti-Semitism, the Depression, and the War. Her father, Maxwell Black, left the factory floor to gain a law degree and then died when she was only 9. Her mother, Celia Klubok, with a will and resourcefulness that was passed on to her daughter, founded a small business supplying factories that supported Vivienne and her beloved older brother Jackson.

Vivienne graduated from the University of Michigan in the mid-fifties and set out for New York City. Beautiful, bright, vivacious and charming, she took a job at Rogers Lingerie, as a model and secretary. Within two years she was head of marketing, then design and ended up running operations. Along the way, she designed advertising campaigns that can still be found today on the Internet as emblematic of New York fashion’s top ads.

Her first marriage to fellow Detroit Central High graduate Stanley Brown, an editor at Business Week by the age of 23, produced her first child, Matthew. She was soon divorced and found herself a single, working mother in the big city. She was introduced to Yale Nemerson, then a dashing young man with an MG in his family’s real estate business and about to enter NYU medical school. They soon married and had two more children Andrea and David. Vivienne put Yale through med school but soon found his career was taking him to Yale University and New Haven.

Not eager to move or give up New York, she commuted from Woodbridge into the 1970s, while also handling the social requirements of a faculty wife as Yale moved up the ranks at Yale Medical School to an endowed chair and head of Department of Hematology. She became a full-time homemaker for a few years but soon branched out starting a training program for women to become executives and board members with the help of leading male executives in New Haven.

Still not satisfied, and by the mid-1970s again divorced, she helped start Artspace and City Spirit Artists in New Haven and worked with Paul Johnson and Newt Schenck on the Audubon Arts concept and later Joel Schiavone on various development projects. Vivienne then started a chain of well-known gift shops, Sweet Pea, that grew to five stores in Connecticut and New York, anchoring part of the South Street Seaport. With Paul Newman as a referenced fan, she entered into sales talks with the Hallmark Corporation which sought to take her unique layout and purchasing nationwide. She met her dear friend Jayne while learning the retail business and gaining her national reputation for buying and presentation. During this time she also was a key member of the Woodbridge Democratic Town Committee, working locally and nationally for candidates and helping Frank Logue become mayor of New Haven.

After Sweet Pea, she embarked on a new career as director of the Agency on Aging for South Central Connecticut during the 1990s and the mid-2000s. Here, working with Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro and others she helped thousands with advocacy and events. In the late 1990s, she re-connected with and then married an old friend William Goodman, a prominent statewide businessman and political supporter from Danbury and started a wonderful penultimate chapter of her life. Vivienne and Bill’s families joined forces as the two traveled the world and enjoyed a strong and close relationship until his passing in 2010.

The consummate early feminist, marketer, hostess and community strategic planner, Vivienne was a strong force in shaping the lives and ideas of her children: Matthew, Andrea and David, their partners Marian Chertow, Kenton Hoover and Cindy Freeman and her grandchildren Elana, Joy, Arlo, Lilah, and Avi. She was as adept at a business plan as she was at making a Halloween costume, Passover dinner or first-grade diorama.

A memorial service is planned for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden. The Nemerson family will sit Shiva at their home beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday evening. Services will be at 7 p.m. Memorial gifts may be sent to Emily’s List and to Artspace New Haven.

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