ROCKPORT, MAINE: Mab Ashforth passed away at her home in Rockport, Maine on December 14th, surrounded in love by her husband, Bo Goldman, and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mab was born in New York City on May 13th 1931. Her family constructed and controlled many of the buildings on the city’s Upper East Side. Her childhood was spent shuttling between Millbrook and Manhattan, and Newport, R.I. during WW II where her father was stationed, serving in the U.S. Navy as a Lieutenant Commander.
She attended Dana Hall and Barnard College and made her debut in 1949. Her boyfriend at the time, Thomas Hoving, attended Princeton and had a roommate who happened to be in love with her. He also happened to be a Jew. Consequently, he had no invitation to her débutante ball. Posing as a waiter, he snuck in through the kitchen entrance of the Ritz Carlton, dropped the tray, and by the end of the night Mab & Bo were dancing. Both believers in the backdoor as a natural entrance, the pair was well matched. Both raised on Park Avenue, the pair was not. For while Mab’s family was from the Mayflower set, Bo’s was from the lower East side by way of Lithuania. Naturally they married. Instant orphans, they decided it would be much simpler to create their own family.
Bo was a writer, one with promise, who at the age of twenty-five had already been produced on Broadway. But the ensuing years were a struggle, and Mab single-handedly managed to keep their family afloat. She decided that the toys her children loved best were the ones she made herself, using scraps salvaged from the fur district. One day she hauled a sack full of them into F.A.O. Schwartz and convinced the manager to stock them on a trial basis. He said “we’ll try one or two.” They sold out within an hour. No two were the same. Unlike the uber-structured German Steiff toys the store usually stocked, Mab’s creations were soft and unwieldy caterpillars, and spiders, and Grinches with tiny music boxes sewn inside to lull a child to sleep. They were collected widely, purchased for children belonging to tourists, conventioneers, foreign heads-of-state, Henry Kissinger, and Lauren Bacall.
To save money, Mab left the city and moved her family out to the potato fields of Sagaponack, N.Y. in what would become a series of musical beds ranging from house-sitting for the naturalist writer Peter Matthiessen, to bunking long-term at a Polish Boarding house. She opened a fish market and baked bread and put her children to work. She christened the place “Loaves & Fishes.” Devoted customers included Truman Capote and Jacqueline Kennedy.
In 1975, at the age of 43, the promise her husband had shown as a young writer finally paid off. Bo wrote the screenplay for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The film went on to sweep all the major Academy Awards, the first time this had happened since 1934. Mab sold her recipes, and the store, and moved her family to an old cattle ranch atop Howell Mountain in St. Helena – an easier commute for her now in-demand husband. She loved their new home and was determined to keep it as wild as she found it, gifting most of it to the Land Trust of Napa County.
Mab and Bo raised six children, have seven grandchildren, and two great- grandchildren. Their eldest son was killed in an accident at the age of twenty-two.
Bo says, “We lived in the natural splendor of those hills above St. Helena for over thirty years. And the community held out its hand to enable us to maintain a professional life, but more important, a loving cherishing atmosphere in which we could grow.” The family would like to express their gratitude to the community for the outpouring of friendship and love. If you who would like to make a donation in Mab’s memory please direct it to: Land Trust of Napa County, 1700 Soscol Avenue, Suite 20 Napa California 94559, or to Napa County Animal Shelter 942 Hartle Ct. Napa, CA 94559