Mark the Spot: The Love Bench

A sixth generation Jumbo commemorates his parents’ love and commitment to civic causes
bench on the Medford/Somerville campus
“If the bench and tree bring together people who have the same open, civic minds and who want to do noble work, if it reminds people that they can be each other’s respite and pillar—that would be great,” says George Nitzburg, A03. Photo: Kelvin Ma
February 18, 2016

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Scattered around Tufts’ three campuses are historical and other kinds of markers that often go unnoticed, hidden among the pathways that many of us travel regularly or in the buildings where we study and work. In this occasional series, “Mark the Spot,” Tufts Now explores the stories behind these snippets of university history and lore.

In some ways, Arthur Nitzburg and Ann Coolidge couldn’t have been more different. Nitzburg’s father ran an insurance firm in Queens, New York. Coolidge was the daughter of a Boston-raised diplomat and had spent much of her childhood in Asia. She was also the fifth consecutive generation of Coolidges to go to Tufts—one of her ancestors, 1903 graduate Arthur W. Coolidge, was a longtime trustee for whom the Coolidge Room in Ballou Hall is named.  

The two college students were drawn together in the heady political atmosphere of the mid-1960s. Arthur Nitzburg, A65, and Ann Coolidge, J68, were “activists who wanted to change policy,” says their son, George Nitzburg, A03. “They shared civic values and viewpoints.”

They dated, but their romance was cut short. When Arthur’s father died suddenly from a heart attack, Arthur had to take a year off from Tufts to carry on the family business. He and Ann drifted apart.

Years after, Arthur and Ann reconnected in New York. Ann had gone on to the Bank Street Graduate School of Education, and Arthur was running his family’s insurance business while also doing financial consulting and publishing books on economics. This time, fate was kind. The college sweethearts married soon thereafter, and went on to raise two sons in Queens.  

Son George recalls the family road trips to Boston and Tufts. “My parents always considered Tufts special and would return to touch base whenever they had a big life transition,” he says. “Their lives together are directly traceable back to Tufts, where they got their foundation for life: civic-mindedness, engagement with the world, and the search for noble work.”

For Arthur Nitzburg, that included becoming a political consultant, handling polling and strategy on economic issues for the campaigns for U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug, D-N.Y., and Shirley Chisholm, D-N.Y. He later worked as a political columnist for Newsday and the Bayside-based Queens Courier. He died of a heart attack in 2001, when he was 57. Ann, a teacher at the Churchill School in New York City, devoted her life to helping children with learning disabilities. She died of cancer in 2014 at age 67.

After their deaths, George Nitzburg felt compelled to make their memory as inspiring as their lives. “They were deeply interconnected,” he says. “They were living testimonials that the love that you have in your marriage is who you become in the world. I wanted those values—of being loving, caring and giving—to have a physical place that honors their life and love.”

Now those who walk the well-traveled route at the top of the Hill on the Medford/Somerville campus, just outside Goddard Chapel, can see George’s tribute to his parents. Just off the path, a small eastern redbud tree honors Arthur Nitzburg. At its base rests a stone bearing an engraved plaque that expresses the strength he gave his wife: “Her Pillar.” As it grows, the tree will provide shade for a new six-foot teak bench that honors Ann Nitzburg; it bears a plaque that reads “His Respite.”

For George Nitzburg, who teaches clinical psychology at Columbia University and does postdoctoral research with the Mount Sinai Health System, the bench, tree and stone are a “testament to romance”—and not just his parent’s romance. He met his future wife, Emily Chasan, A04, at Tufts, too, and they now have a baby, Natalie Ann. He has no doubt that future generations of Tufts students will also fall in love on the Hill. In fact, when asked how he hopes students will use the memorial bench, his reply comes easily.

“I would want them to make out on it,” he says. “Maybe start a serious relationship and fall in love. If it brings together people who have the same open, civic minds and who want to do noble work, if it reminds people that they can be each other’s respite and pillar—that would be great. I would smile upon them.”

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.