Community Remembers Rosemary Nesbitt

OSWEGO, NY – I learned a great deal from Rosemary Nesbitt. And, the education didn’t cease over the course of more than three decades since I left the classroom.

Mrs. Nesbitt passed away peacefully on Sunday, with her family by her side.

She was a Distinguished Teaching professor at SUNY Oswego, where she will be fondly remembered as an inspiring educator.

She taught me many things besides the theater; things such as compassion, tolerance of others and the importance of giving back to the community.

Years ago, when I returned to the Port City to hone my skills as a journalist, Mrs. Nesbitt had one more lesson for me at our first interview.

I don’t recall exactly the reason for the article. But I remember as if it were yesterday Mrs. Nesbitt laying down the law.

Mrs. Rosemary Nesbitt.
Mrs. Rosemary Nesbitt.

“In your article, sir, on second reference and all subsequent references – you shall call me Mrs.,” she instructed, adding, “I worked harder for that MRS than a PhD.”

Even though she was smiling, I’m sure she was rather serious.

Mrs. Nesbitt cared about the Port City and its residents cared about her.

“Oswego has been very good to me … very good,” she said often.

At one event in June of 2001, she told of the “great outpouring of affection and concern” she received during the May 7 block fire that spring.

Her home, which is festively decorated during the holidays, was right behind the businesses that burned on West Bridge Street.

“I am very grateful for the outpouring of concern, not only for me but for my house as well,” she said. “As I was sitting on the other side of the street, watching my house and the fire, perfect strangers came up to me and asked if I was all right and if I needed a place to sleep that night.”

One comment, she added, was extra touching.

“A little girl, who was walking past with her mother, stopped and said, ‘you can’t let anything happen to the Christmas house,’” Mrs. Nesbitt said. “That really touched me.”

Mrs. Nesbitt’s father played a big part why she was so involved in her community.

“When we were growing up, he told us, ‘you must remember, if you accept all the benefits of a democratic society, you must give something back. You can’t take it for granted,’” she said.

That is why she continued to volunteer.

Among the causes and organizations she has been involved with over the years are the United Way, Harborfest, St. Mary’s Church and the H. Lee White Marine Museum.

The first inkling I had that something might be wrong was the Friday of Harborfest’s annual Children’s Parade.

Mrs. Nesbitt was to be the grand marshal and ride along in a horse-drawn carriage. She was to receive a special recognition at the end of the parade.

However, she never arrived and no one had an explanation.

It wasn’t until more than a week later that we learned she had taken a turn for the worst.

Everywhere you went today (Aug. 3), it was easy to find someone with a memory to share of how Mrs. Nesbitt touched their lives.

In 1988, she was appointed by Mayor Terry Hammill to chair the Sesquicentennial celebration to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the chartering of the city of Oswego.

As city historian Mrs. Nesbitt was responsible for the oversight of historic development within the city including the preservation of the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse.

“I, like a great many other people in our city, thought of Rosemary as one of the most positive parts of the image we enjoy in Central New York,” Hammill said. “Oswego would have been a lesser place without her, and her service to all of us was without equal.”

“I first met Mrs. Nesbitt when I was in elementary school, when I was in sixth grade. She directed the school play at St. Mary’s School and treated it like a major production,” recalls Bill Foley. “She really sparked my interest in performing and theatre. In college she was my performance teacher and her creativity and ability to inspire was amazing.”

In late summer, she would share local lore and ghost stories during the annual Tales of the Haunted Harbor.

“My daughters really enjoyed her storytelling. She brought their imagination to life especially her Halloween tales,” Foley said.

For many years, Rosemary Nesbitt participated in most of the major events in the Port City. She is seen here at the ribbon cutting ceremony last November re-opening the Bridge Street Bridge.
For many years, Rosemary Nesbitt participated in most of the major events in the Port City. She is seen here at the ribbon cutting ceremony last November re-opening the Bridge Street Bridge.

“She was such a great supporter of education,” said Oswego Schools Superintendent Bill Crist. “She is going to be missed; she just pulled so many things together, culturally and educationally. She was tireless.”

“One of our most remarkable faculty members, Rosemary Nesbitt was the very model of community engagement. Whether spearheading the development of the H. Lee White Marine Museum, benefiting the community through leading United Way drives, or telling spellbinding tales of local history to children of all ages, Rosemary left a resonating, long-lasting and far-ranging impact on us all,” SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley said upon learning of the passing of the Distinguished Professor of Theatre. “She was a tireless community advocate who cared passionately for Oswego and put a lifetime of energy into letting people know what a special community Oswego is. Rosemary herself played a large role in making Oswego the special place that it is today.”

Whenever she was acknowledged for her efforts, Mrs. Nesbitt would always point out she didn’t do everything alone.

“It’s nice to receive an award,” Mrs. Nesbitt said.

But, she would add, the best part for her was seeing all the friends who came out to share her special occasions.

Ever humble and gracious, she would always share an accolade “with everyone who helped me achieve it.”

“Oswego lost a very valuable and special person in Rosemary Nesbitt. She was very passionate in her beliefs and she lived them,” said Oswego County Legislator Paul Santore. “She took on the persona of Dr. Mary Walker and was a staunch advocate for woman’s rights and equality and was forever teaching us all. She will be sorely missed.”

“Rosemary always found the good in Oswego,” Bill Reily pointed out. “She epitomized it.”

“She was a local treasure,” Foley added.

A public funeral will be held on Wednesday at 11 a.m. in St. Mary of The Assumption Roman Catholic Church, Oswego.

There are no calling hours and internment will be private.

A public celebration of Rosemary’s life will be held Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. in Breitbeck Park.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the H. Lee White Marine Museum, West First Street Pier, Oswego; St. Mary’s Restoration Fund, 103 W. Seventh St., Oswego; or the United Way of Greater Oswego County, 1 S. First St., Fulton.


  1. Rosemary nesbitt, was infact my hero, an inspirational woman like her comes once in a lifetime. I can see it now though, rosemary nesbitt haunting oswego. it would be like her to. i wish the family the best of wishes and the best for everyone who loved her.

  2. Very nice job on this story, Steve.

    Former Post-Standard reporter
    (Thank you. I appreciate your note – Steve)

  3. I remember she was directing the “Wizard of Oz” and I overheard someone ask if she was going to want the house to fly and the reply was that if Rosemary wanted the house to fly – it would fly. When I was a student forty years ago, she was my mentor and my best cheerleader – my memories of her are as clear as yesterday – that is how she will stay with all of us I am sure.

  4. Oswego has lost one of its treasures and leaders. I had the good fortune of working with Rosemary in several capacities over the years and learned much from her passion, compassion, vision and leadership.

    We jointly co-chaired the first United Way Campaign of the newly merged Oswego and Fulton United Way organizations, which Rosemary beleived in and worked very hard to achieve. I also had the opportunity to work with her at the H. Lee White Marine Museum, a truely pasioanate endeavor for her; on the Oswego Historic Mural Committee, especially the Dr. Mary Walker mural located on the river’s end bookstore; as my Mrs. Claus on a couple of occasions at city hall, along with many other committees and community endeavors too numerous to mention.

    Through each of those experiences Rosemary was passionate about excellence, helping people and the community that she so dearly loved. I will remember her fondly and hold dear to all that she taught me in her own selfless way.

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