By Grace Maselli
It’s with heavy hearts and deep gratitude for her visionary work that we announce the death of Tampa Bay Timebank founder Marie Nelson. Marie died on January 21, the 21st day of the 21st year of 21st century. She was 78 years old.
Marie’s grassroots and tireless passion to structure and educate the community about timebanking—how it works and how it holds the potential to benefit intergenerational members of all communities—set the stage for a system of exchanges that continues to reach across Florida’s Tampa Bay Area, including more recent timebanks and timebank hubs in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Hernando Counties.
Petite in stature, Marie had Herculean energy for big picture strategy and hitting the pavement. She developed the inaugural Tampa Bay Area timebank, meeting with individuals, private businesses, and local government agencies in some cases to talk a blue streak about how to bring community members together to build timebanking alliances across counties and among neighbors.
“My mother was an exceptional woman,” says Naomi Nelson of Gainesville, FL. Marie is best described, Naomi says, as a person who dedicated her life professionally and privately to humanistic principles and ideas. “From the early 1960s, in every community she lived in, she was an activist and community organizer. She was not tied to a single ‘ism’ or oppression. [Her humanistic approach] was part of an integrated world view that encompassed her professional life in education, environmental and climate activism, racial and LGBTQ+ equality activism and, or course, the alternate economy work she did through the timebank.”
Fearless and Persevering
Marie was a bonafide academic who came from a long line of well-educated parents and grandparents. Her fearlessness and conviction is well demonstrated in a particular story Naomi shares. In the early 1960s Marie taught high school English at Furman College in Greenville, S.C. where she got her undergraduate degree. She taught for one year until she was fired from the job for leading interracial “meet and greets” in Greenville before desegregation, “so that black and white students could meet and talk to each other,” Naomi explains. Marie also lived and taught at Columbia S.C.’s Benedict College, a small historically black college in Columbia where she was very active in the Women’s Rights Movement and served as one of the founding members of the city’s National Organization of Women’s chapter.
“Marie was a strong and spirited woman and always made sure there was a place at the table for anyone who wanted to be involved with what she was doing,” says B.J. Andryusky, coordinator of the St. Petersburg Timebank and longtime friend of Marie’s.
Marie was no stranger either to the founder of timebanking himself, Edgar Cahn, a distinguished legal professor and former counsel and speech writer to Robert F. Kennedy. Dr. Cahn is the author of Time Dollars (1992) and No More Throw-Away People: The Coproduction Imperative (2004), detailing how to mobilize a non-market economy that recognizes and rewards reciprocal contributions of service and caring.
“With Marie Nelson’s passing, the timebank community lost a dear and precious member of the family,” Edgar remarks. Marie believed that, as people who care about community, “We are here for each other,” Edgar says. And for Marie, “Community was not just an array of nonprofits and transactions by networks of do-gooders. Community was simply family, extended family, open-ended family…For Marie, Community was organic and alive.”
Dr. Chris Gray, Edgar’s wife and partner in timebanking, believes “Marie brought people together. She helped them think about the future and its possibilities—possibilities anchored in values of social justice and equity. On that, she was always crystal clear, she never wavered. Edgar and I so valued knowing her, sharing ideas with her, learning where her thinking was going.”
Wisdom to Share
For nearly four years Marie lived in Tampa with Karen Lowman, a member of the TBT Leadership Team, and Karen’s wife, Mandy O’Neil. “She was like family,” the two women remark. “She had an emotional impact and shared a lot of wisdom and stories,” says Mandy, adding “Marie was adventurous. I loved hearing stories about her rebel days growing up. She had a remarkably positive outlook on life even during the most difficult stretches of her health challenges. She always focused on perseverance.”
Marie’s efforts improved the lives of people in her orbit as she worked to create a safety net for some of the most vulnerable in our local communities. She acted on behalf of the greater good.
“Marie was fearless and liked to shed light on the darkest places; this was symbolic of her work with the Tampa Bay Timebank,” says Karen. “She was always patient and extremely diplomatic. She had a go-with-the-flow attitude. Marie truly loved groups and supporting an alternative economy, especially for aging populations whose physical abilities change over time,” Karen says.
A Laser Beam with Language
Marie’s love of language came as no surprise to anyone who knew her. She earned a Ph.D in Language Education and an M.Ed. in English Education from the University of Georgia. She studied French Literature at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. where she earned a Bachelor of Arts; she was also Emeritus Professor of Integrated Studies at National Louis University, Chicago, IL. In the late 1960s and early 1970s she taught English in Japan.
“Marie was always concerned about very specific words, their precise meaning, and how they sounded together to be sure a message was relayed absolutely perfectly,” B.J. recalls. “I remember spending hours with her to help create key documents for the Tampa Bay Timebank. She cared so deeply about people and about the message she had to share.”
From community activists and documentary film makers, to students and professionals, Marie loved and mentored many people across her nearly eight decades of life. For those who worked alongside her and became her dearest, closest friends, Marie’s death is a profound loss—even as she leaves behind a legacy of service and the results of her commitment to make the world a better place than the one she found.
Marie is survived by her daughter Naomi Nelson of Gainesville, FL, her son, Joshua Nelson of Beaufort, S.C., and a grandson, Elijah Nelson-Ehrsam of Gainesville, FL.
This Saturday, January 30, 2021, interested friends are invited to an outdoor memorial for Marie at Philippe Park in Safety Harbor, FL, by/around Shelter 7. Wearing masks and observing all social distancing recommendations, we will gather to celebrate Marie’s remarkable life. Plan to bring a chair and share a vegan potluck dish with a description of ingredients for those with dietary/allergen-related restrictions.
|Event: Outdoor Celebration of Life for Marie Nelson|
|Day: Saturday, January 30, 2021|
|Location: Philippe Park, Safety Harbor, FL, near Shelter 7|
|Time: 11 AM to 1 PM EST|
|Questions: Contact TBT Coordinator Rita Cobbs at 608.335.2382|
TBT will also hold a Celebration of Life for Marie via Zoom at its Third Tuesday meeting on February 16 at 6:30 PM EST. The Celebration will be facilitated by Karen Lowman with participants invited to speak for three to five minutes each to give all guests an opportunity to express their love and appreciation for our founder. Tampa Life Enrichment Center Executive Director and community partner Maureen Murphy is assembling a presentation to commemorate Marie’s life to be shared with Zoom participants.
|Event: Zoom Memorial for Marie Nelson|
|Day: Tuesday, February 16, 2021|
|Time: 6:30 to 9 PM EST|
|Questions: Contact TBT Coordinator Rita Cobbs at 608.335.2382|