Back when women were supposed to stay in the kitchen, Marjorie K. Behrman wore pants, worked in a male-dominated field and turned down a federal defense job at age 19, just after graduating from college with a math degree, her family said.
Plus she had her husband do all the cooking shortly after they got married in 1947, when he disliked one of her first dishes, her daughters recounted fondly.
“She was her own person,” said daughter Debra Behrman of Glencoe, Illinois. “She was a feminist before being a feminist was a thing.”
Behrman, 96, who lived in Plainview for almost a half-century, died Wednesday after a short illness in Delray Beach, Florida, her home since 2006. She had worked as an actuarial assistant for Buck Consultants, a leading risk analysis company, then later as a supervisor in the state Labor Department’s unemployment office.
A Brooklyn native, she had skipped several semesters at Abraham Lincoln High School to graduate at age 15, her family said. At a time when Ivy League colleges did not want to admit Jews, Cornell University accepted her, but because college didn’t start until the fall, Behrman decided to attend Hunter College in Manhattan for a short time, relatives said. Instead, she stayed at Hunter because of its strong mathematics program, took statistics as a minor and graduated.
She was offered a Defense Department job, but when her parents thought she was too young to be on her own in Washington, D.C., she turned down the post, her children said. She was hired by Buck Consultants even though the actuarial field was dominated by men, and when the female employees there discouraged the young Jewish woman from lunching with them, that helped cement Behrman’s lifelong views.
“I think it influenced her comfort level with different people,” her daughter said, “but I think it also influenced her political liberalism and her intolerance of discrimination and racism.”
She taught her four children, especially her three daughters, about gender equality through her 51-year partnership with her husband, Phineas “Phil” Behrman, said their daughter Jeanne Behrman of Dix Hills.
They met in 1946 at a USO dance, where they danced just once because neither was good at it, and spent the rest of the night playing Ping-Pong, she said.
Phil admired her brains and her spirit — even when she needled him about canceling a date on her — and after a six-week courtship, he “tricked” her into being engaged, her children said.
“He was like ‘Maybe we should get unofficially engaged,’ “ Jeanne Behrman recounted. “She was ‘What is this unofficial thing? Either we are or we aren’t.’ He said ‘Oh, OK, we are.’ “
They married a few months later. Phil, an accountant and insurance broker, did the cooking and a lot of the housekeeping. Marjorie, until she took off several years to raise the children, pursued her career because relying on allowances from her husband, as other wives of their era did, was not in keeping with her independence, her family said.
A social couple, the pair especially relished bridge games with friends and family and often won local tournaments, Jeanne Behrman said. For Behrman, the game also allowed her to win with her math skills, the daughter said, and even when she couldn’t remember what she ate for lunch, she could play bridge up until the end.
Behrman’s independence lasted a lifetime, her family said. After her husband died in 1998 and even when she was 95, Behrman was proud of fixing the toilet, climbing on a ladder to reach a light fixture and living by herself in her condo in a Florida retirement community. She still drove at age 95 and was the designated driver among her friends, who could no longer drive, when they went out.
As friends her age died, Behrman befriended the 70-somethings moving into the retirement community — “spring chickens,” she called them — her daughter Debra said.
“There was one woman in particular who said to me, ‘Your mother is the poster child for aging gracefully,’ “ Debra Behrman said.
In addition to daughters Jeanne and Debra, Behrman is survived by sister Joyce Murad of Delray Beach; another daughter, Laurie Sadetsky of Centereach; a son, Kenneth of Marietta, Georgia; and 11 grandchildren.
A funeral was held Sunday at Star of David Memorial Chapel in West Babylon, followed by burial in Wellwood Cemetery.