Dorothy A. Zuckerman
August 26, 1932 – June 3, 2014
By Phyllis Goodwin
It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Dorothy Ann Sugarman Zuckerman on June 3, 2014. Dot had been extremely ill for the past year and a half and her biggest concern was that she continue to function at her best possible level for everyone. Her greatest accomplishment was as a wife, mother, grandmother and friend. Dot made it known to all that she was first and foremost a sixth grade teacher. As a member of Phi Beta Kappa, she was easily the smartest person in any room with the ability to see all sides of any given situation. We have been privileged to know her for her diligent work for the teachers of Brentwood, Long Island and New York State. All of us remember attending the Ready Or Not workshops in preparation for retirement. Dot was an advocate for teachers’ rights and legislative representation for seniors. So many of the contract guarantees that she helped negotiate became the basis for other school district contracts. In 1991-92 as founder and first President of the Retirees of Brentwood Schools and RC 21, Dot set the course for Long Island retirees. She was present at all general meeting and updated the membership on matters of concern. In 2000, Dot was chosen as the NYSUT Retiree Representative for Suffolk County. In this capacity, she planned a yearly conference to update retirees on the latest in political action, member benefits and assisted in forming new retiree groups. Dorothy served as President of Long Island Association of Retired Americans which represented many retiree groups. Three years ago, Dot was chosen to advocate for seniors on the Governor’s Commission on Aging. Dot attended these meetings which meant that a plane trip to Albany, went via Baltimore. She served continuously on the ROBS Executive Board. No one will ever comprehend how much she gave up in support of us.
Dot was tireless, courageous, artistic, humorous and fearless. And She Was Ours.
There is no greater example of a life well-lived.
Photo December 2009
Born Dorothy Sugarman, she was known informally as Dot, Dotty or “Spunky” as her vanity plate informed one and all while on the road in the sports car that spoke her name. Addressed as Dorothy by her mother she came into the world the namesake of her paternal grandmother (also a teacher) changing her name to Zuckerman (not much of a stretch) at the time of her marriage to Jack her husband and life long partner. They had two children, Richard and Jerry, who gave them five grandchildren, 4 boys 1 girl. Their son “Ric” resides in Baldwin, their daughter Jerry in Port Jefferson, while Oakdale was home to Dot and Jack.
Born in The Bronx, Huntspoint (Ft Apache), when it was still a quaint little village, Dot was a child of the depression though she reports never having experienced a sense of need or want during those years. Her father was a teamster truck driver delivering chickens up and down the East Coast. He was a religious man whose own large family came from Baltimore MD (seven or eight siblings) where family traditions were maintained. Dot’s mother was born in the U.S. where she graduated from high school. Both her parents were actively involved organization people.
Her earliest memories are of the ice man, horse drawn wagons, street vendors selling jelly apples and toasted marshmallows. Her grandparents were both born in Russia. Dotty came from a family with generations of strong women and a lineage of first cousins. Her mother enjoyed knitting at one stage until at Dot’s urging. she became involved in Hadassah, the PTA, and other organizations. She was “a super person” according to Dot. Having had an older sister, deceased 10 years prior to the interview, Dot was then the surviving member of her nuclear family. She was also the only one in her family to attend college. A carefree kid, unaware of much of what was around her during WW2 except for what she experienced through friends families, Dotty remembered victory gardens, saving tinfoil and cleaning blackboard erasers of chalk dust without regard to the environment. From age 4 and preschool on, she wanted to be a teacher. Learning to read opened up the world to her. She was a voracious reader until her eyes gave her problems in college.
Legally too young to accept her first offer of employment, Dotty altered her birth certificate to make it appear that she was older than she was,- much to her regret in later years - in order to become a sales clerk at Bloomingdales. She was assigned to the teen aged girls department where she did more modeling of clothes than finalizing of sales.
Her favorite family holidays were mostly religious holidays like that of the Jewish New Year. Consistently a night person, she still favors evenings acquiring a second wind about 8 pm.
The first school attended was PS 48 in the Bronx. She remembers her mother walking her to school on the first day. She next attended Junior High 60, an all girls school. She describes having had a wonderful public school education throughout. When it was time to attend High School she chose one that was co-ed over another all girls school.
Her favorite teachers were those demanding of the best she had to give. She loved Queens College and its campus which she said was beautiful and “out of town,” a two and a half hour commute from the Bronx, making being on time for her first class very difficult. She was a people person who always marched to a different drummer. English was her major at first then changing to education w/ anthropology and sociology as her minor. She acquired the best Liberal Arts education possible at $7.50 per semester which she freely admitted she couldn’t afford at the time.
She talked about how and why she first came to the Brentwood area. Her first year teaching at Bay Shore High School and before becoming pregnant she made $3,200 per year. She was paid once a month. The only interview she remembered was the one she had after a 9 year hiatus to raise Jerry and Richard when she returned to teaching again, this time in Brentwood. She taught a 4th Grade class and remembers her nightmares with students picking away at her and her belief there was not enough of her to go around. After that she learned to draw a line between what she was willing to share of herself and what to reserve for herself. It came down to self preservation at which she was more than successful. Dot was always more of a loner though still a people person. She recalls those with whom she worked her first year in Brentwood.
The Dotty and Jack Team begins to work in earnest in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Simultaneously, Dot is expanding her reach by becoming Principal of her Temple’s Religious High School. She’s becoming involved with the Democrat Party as a Committee person and increasing her work load with the Brentwood teachers Association and allowing it to become all consuming.
Asked about her own perceived personal purpose as a teacher, Dotty admits to always being people oriented; a teacher advocate providing financial assistance and information to both active and retired people as a spokesman for those who are not able to speak for themselves. In that capacity she admits to being a lifelong activist.
Dot came to Brentwood after Jack did and following the organization of the union that he and others had succeeded in creating. The first union contract had been approved in 1968. Jack became President of the Union in 1969 or 1970. They were already a team. Thus it was that Dotty confronted one of the greatest challenges, in her career; defining her new role - that of being her own professional person while continuing to wear the mantle of organizational leadership and finding freedom and its limits as a modern woman, wife and mother.
She jumped in and found her path by becoming Coordinator of Communications, Editor of the first IMPACT Newsletter, plus taking on the time consuming Community NEWSLETTER for a single issue. She was a member of the Union Negotiating Team for years. The most satisfying and demanding task of all was undertaken when she took charge of Grievances for the BTA. Acting in the capacity of semi- lawyer, her work led her to greater union involvement and further association with NYSUT.
Elected a delegate to represent Brentwood Teachers at its’ Representative Assembly, she began to serve on a multitude of committees and task forces. She remained active as a delegate from 1970 to 1991 when she began exclusively to represent retirees.
She recalls the changes and antagonistic conflicts of the early years when a strike was averted prior to Labor Day. It was extremely difficult she said, for others to comprehend how members of the team could battle tooth and nail with adversaries during the day, then break for dinner and enjoy a civil relationship with their counterparts knowing how much work was yet to be done. The surface obscured the sense of purpose that pervaded her enterprise. It was during an era of early union organization establishing boundaries and limitations of conflicting associations. Recalling periodic slates of unchallenged candidates during times when organizational participation was hard to enlist, through it all she persevered.
Meanwhile, the values of our country were changing. Smaller battles like those of dress codes were addressed, fought and won. The wheel turned re-inventing changes morphing from the 1950’s to 2000. All that Dot says “is good. It’s as it should be”. Asked to name the names of her colleagues she sees only a sea of faces acknowledging that she’s been surrounded with people who have made her ask the tough questions and confront central issues. There were no “yes” people around our Dot. They all, she said, “contributed to her growth as a professional.”
So unlike many of the rest of us she didn’t have a timetable. Dot gave no thought to leaving, until in 1991, while preparing for her move with the 6th Grade the following year to the new Middle School, the State offered New York’s first retirement incentive to teachers. She had been looking forward to a new beginning, a new challenge. But for the first time she crunched the numbers for herself she discovered that after 40 years she would have been foolish not to take advantage of the opportunity. She didn’t actually retire, she simply moved on and began again.
With a small group of people she helped organize ROBS – The Retirees of Brentwood Schools, in October of 1991. Soon thereafter NYSUT established Retiree Councils throughout the state of New York based upon geographical areas. Long Island was assigned seven Retiree Districts. Brentwood became part of Educational District 21 that included eleven school districts. Subsequently, Dot was elected President of ED 21.
Then in the Spring of 1972 seeing the benefit of creating, a L.I. Retiree Delegate Council (LIRDC) Dot Zuckerman was appointed Chairperson of the group which met once a month to coordinate the work and focus of the 7 retiree councils. Commenting on the growth of the local organization, Dot noted that the year before in 1999 ROBS had 400 members, acknowledging that at the time the prevailing fear of active member chapters was a retiree takeover. It was a constant struggle to gain acceptance and the trust of active chapters. At the time of the interview NYSUT could boast a retiree total of 25% of the 400,000 NYSUT statewide .members.
Dot cited the COLA Retiree Rally of the previous year where 10,000 members turned out in support of the widely held belief that a cost of living adjustment was long overdue and deserved by members. The success of the Rally showed that NYSUT Retirees were a force to be reckoned with and that their time had come.
Then in a move that had not been anticipated Dot stepped down from Leadership of ROBS and LIRDC and accepted a newly created staff position to serve Retirees in the Hauppauge office of NYSUT where she would represent all retirees instead of individuals.
She had continued to offer Ready or Not workshops from the late 70’s for 20 years and once again had to shift her view of reality, transitioning the purpose for which she had dedicated her service, helping even more people work their way through the system.
We talked about her latent artistic Folk Art talent discovered years before and then set aside after an initial successes with her Grandma Moses Folk Art paintings. Her life had not included sufficient leisure to encourage her creative expression in the last few years. Yet, for her the unfinished business was to discover how “to give more of me.” It bothered her that given her personal standards and high expectations she “could have done better.”
The real challenges of the day were the dangers to Public Education of competition from the private sector. At this point survival is the key for young people – bottom line advice is, “do what you know in your heart is right for you.”
Dot continued to look forward to organizing travel groups to remote corners of the world which she did for the next fourteen years. She was and remains, a Woman of Valor standing apart in memory as a force unlike any other.