Marilyn Josephson, known to friends as Jo, passed away Sunday, Sept. 11, at her home in Temple on the land she’s lived since the 1970s. Friends and colleagues of Jo’s say she has left an impact across Franklin County and Maine as a devoted community member dedicated to making where she lived the best it could be. Jo was a member of every board and group one could think of. Friends remember Jo as loving, direct, and always one to ask questions. Pictured is a portrait of Jo taken by friend Ann Arbor in 2006 in Farmington. Arbor said Jo was devoted to black and white photography, that colors were merely a distraction. Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor

TEMPLE — Marilyn Josephson, known by friends as “Jo,” passed away in her Temple home Sunday night, Sept. 11, at the age of 81.

There are perhaps more poetic ways to start this tribute to a woman like Jo. But Jo always believed strongly in a sharp, concise lede sentence.

Jo Josephson was born on Aug. 8, 1941, raised in New Jersey by a Jewish family originally from Eastern Europe and Ukraine.

As Jo put it in an interview from December 2021, she was “the daughter of Dorothy Schiffman, the granddaughter of Esther Schiffman.”

Jo traveled to Ghana as a Peace Corps member from 1963 to 1965. One of her favorite phrases was that she “hitch-hiked from Cape Town to Cairo.” She spent time on a kibbutz in the Negev Desert of Israel; worked as a teacher in the South Bronx while living on the Upper West Side of New York City.

Following what seemed already to be a lifetime of adventures, Jo landed in Maine in 1978 with her then-partner, Bob Parns.


She bought 20 acres of land, built her home, grew a beautiful garden and began the life in Temple that has left an impression upon so many.

You can read more of Jo’s obituary at the Sun Journal, which, because you should expect nothing less, Jo wrote herself.

Jo’s time in Franklin County was spent diving into every community one can think of.

Jo was a dedicated member of boards for the High Peaks Alliance, Regional School Unit 9 (RSU 9), Fedco Seeds, the Franklin County Democrats, and more. She was a member of the Farmington Grange, “instrumental” in the Temple recycling program, and taught courses at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Jo also worked as a reporter. She wrote for the Advocate, Morning Sentinel and Maine Municipal Alliance’s Maine Townsman. Jo was also former editor for the Livermore Falls Advertiser during the the International Paper Company strike in Jay in the late 1980s.

“The pay was really bad,” Jo said of her time at the LFA. “But I loved it, I had it in my blood.”


Writing was certainly in Jo’s blood. Alongside the bevy of newspapers, Jo wrote the Temple Times (the newsletter for her town), a newsletter for the Maine Sustainable Agriculture society, a regular column on gardening called “The Opinionated Gardener” for the Daily Bulldog, press releases for the organizations she worked with and a feminist version of the Haggadah (a seder book for the Jewish holiday of Passover).

Reading her writing feels the same as hearing her speak, her voice and perspective so vivid in her words.

Jo was one of the founders of the local Jewish Union of Franklin County, most prominently known as Bagel and Dreidel.

In 2011, 26 years after the group informally launched in 1985, Jo wrote a poignant account of Bagel and Dreidel, which can be read at Documenting Maine Jewry.

In her retirement, Jo said in an interview she still spent her time writing.

Marilyn “Jo” Josephson passed away Sunday, Sept. 11, at the home she built after moving to Temple in the 1970s. Pictured is a portrait of Jo’s hands on a birch tree, taken by friend Ann Arbor in 2006. Arbor described Jo’s hands as “the hands of a worker” that spent time in her garden, hauling wood and fixing machines in the yard that she “talked to.” Friends and colleagues say Jo will be remembered for her strong beliefs and devotion to the communities she was a member of. Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor

Jo was a lover of gardening, flowers, good food, sustainability, environmental justice and planting apple trees; black and white photography; learning and reading, including her favorite poems by Wisława Szymborska; attending and hosting potlucks with friends and strangers alike; celebrating the Jewish holidays; going in her sauna; debating politics, spirituality and ethics; hiking with the Walking Women of Mt. Vernon and Vienna; and traveling out to the coast every year to spend time in South Addison, where she celebrated her final birthday.


“She was just interested in everything anybody did,” friend Sue Cantrell, treasurer of Temple said. “She took pride in everything she did; she was interested in everything she did.”

“She was absolutely interested in other people’s lives,” longtime friend and activist Judy Rawlings echoed.

Jo was also a prolific Franklin County activist – one of the founders of the local chapter of “Women in Black” – a movement for justice, against war – and a regular participant of the weekly Farmington Peace Vigil, which endures 20 years later.

The list of what Jo did in Franklin County is endless.

“She was involved in virtually every civic activity that went on here,” Bob Van Riper, Temple town clerk said. “She was involved in pretty much anything she could get her fingers into.”

“She served in so many ways,” close friend Ann Arbor agreed. “Whatever she could figure out, she did.”


“She was a real, real part of the community,” Marion “Toosie” Sharoun, a Farmington Historical Society trustee and member of the grange added.

It’s impossible to encapsulate that list in its entirety because community was so, so important to Jo.

“I don’t have kids, but I care about education and care about the community,” Jo would say of her time on the RSU 9 Board of Directors, according to Arbor.

Arbor believed Jo “wanted to make the world better and the best way to do that is to make community – make communities safe and healthy.”

“She had such great ideas. And she wanted to see them come to fruition,” Sharoun said. “I think she just really felt responsible to [serve the community]. If something was important to her she went ahead and pushed through.”

Van Riper said Jo “was concerned that wherever she was going to live was going to be as good as she could make it.”


Jo was also closely involved in local government.

Van Riper and Cantrell said it was a guarantee Jo would be at Temple’s annual Town Meeting and budget meetings.

Cantrell would seek help from Jo on “everything to do with taxes.”

“I found her just to be so informative. I learned an awful lot from her,” Cantrell said. “She helped me so much … very helpful; very, very knowledgeable.”

Only 70 people attended the RSU 9 budget meeting held last May. In declining health, Jo still attended the meeting and was one of few people in the audience to ask a question on any of the 23 articles.

“What’s behind it? Why are you doing it? What’s the need?” Jo had asked about a new set of reserve funds.


“Virtually every article we’d have in the [Temple] town report, Jo would ask a question,” Van Riper said.

“We need to find someone to take her place at the town meetings, though I don’t think we can replace her,” Cantrell said. “We’re going to be looking at the chair where she always sat at the town meeting and think of her.”

“She really loved the people who worked with the organizations, institutions,” Jonathan Cohen, a member of Bagel and Dreidel who knew Jo since the 1990s said.

And yet, Arbor said, Jo “always said, ‘I don’t belong here, I don’t fit in … I’m an outsider.'”

“And I’d say ‘damn it, Jo: you’re on the school board. you’re doing this and that. You’re writing the Temple Times. You’re farming with the farmers. You’re saving land here. You’re working with the Fly Rod Crosby trail’,” Arbor said. “I said, ‘You have your fingers in every pie. You really belong.'”

Those who knew Jo also knew her as thoughtful with strong beliefs – deeply opinionated.


“It’s almost an understatement to say she had strong views about things,” said Rawlings, a founding member of the local Women in Black chapter who knew Jo since the late 70s. “Jo was always opinionated about everything … about politics, what’s right, what’s not so good.”

Jo believed strongly in human rights, peace and justice. But she also valued open dialogue.

She fostered debates and discussions in Bagel and Dreidel as disagreements over observance, ritual, piety and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict arose.

In her own words on discussions over Israel, Jo wrote in “Tsmissis and Gefilte Fish,” “Jo, Ellen, and Steve Bien framed the discussion by asking ‘How can we talk about what we need to talk about?'”

“It was agreed that one way to talk about it was to focus on where we were coming from individually i.e. why we believed what we believed based on our own personal experiences,” Jo wrote.

Jon Rosenwald, a fellow activist, scholar and husband of Arbor, said Jo always appreciated “honesty and directness.”


Rosenwald said Jared Golden once visited the Franklin County Democrat and got a thorough grilling from Jo, and he answered all of her questions with those aforementioned qualities.

“She said, ‘I might disagree with him, but I respect the fact that he’s honest,'” Rosenwald recalled. “And I think that was central to her vision.”

“If you are a deeply principled person, then you want to see your values reflected in your community,” noted Victoria Cohen, secretary of the Franklin County Democrats and a member of Bagel and Dreidel.

Arbor said if Jo felt strongly about something, she’d speak out or write about it – or both.

“If she believed something, you were not going to change her mind on that,” Rawlings said.

“She couldn’t ever keep herself from speaking up. She always had something to say,” Arbor said. “And I loved her because she was direct.”


In that vein, Jo is also remembered for her “loving directness.”

“If she wasn’t happy she let you know, if she was happy she let you know,” Arbor said. “It was all very clear.”

“You could know exactly where you stood with Jo at any given moment,” Victoria Cohen said.

“She was a wonderful mix of strong opinions and a loving manner,” Jonathan Cohen said.

She never held her tongue.

“And we loved it,” Arbor said.


Rosenwald said they’d often get into debates or disagreements.

Still, Jo could easily end “a heated discussion and sit down and have supper,” Arbor said. “It was fun.”

With a sharp tongue and steadfast beliefs, Jo always managed to make an impression.

“For Temple, for everyone that knows Jo Josephson, she certainly did leave an impact,” Cantrell said.

“Wherever Jo was, there was a presence,” Van Riper said. “That presence is what’s going to be missed. How do you replace that?”

Jonathan Cohen said Jo leaves behind the legacy of “being active in your community.”


“That’s an example she set for all of us,” he said.

Rawlings added that Jo leaves behind the legacy of her apple trees, first found on her property and then planted at UMF.

Victoria Cohen said like many of the children raised in Bagel and Dreidel, Jo was an honorary family member for her now adult children.

“She was such an ageless institution,” Cohen said one of her children said. “It’s hard to imagine her gone.”

In the customary words of Jewish mourning, “may her memory be a blessing.”

Jo will be honored with a celebration of life 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Temple Town Office, 258 Temple Road. Memories of her life can be shared at

She would like to be remembered with a donation to the Downeast Coastal Conservancy, at

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