Vivian Plonsey
August 1, 1924 -- June 29, 2011

Vivian Plonsey, my mother, passed away Wednesday, June 29, 2011, at the Carol Woods health center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The biography which follows is based on notes my mother provided, together with what I can recall, and there may be errors. Portions of the text which appear within quotation marks are taken directly from her notes. An earlier, shorter version of this biography was used as the basis for an obituary in the News and Observer, July 5, 2011. Please contact me with any corrections or additions.

--- Dan Plonsey (

Vivian Viola Vucker (pronounced: VIEW-ker) was born in the Bronx, and grew up in White Plains, NY. She was the youngest of six children of Sam and Jenny Vucker. Vivian writes: "There were five sisters and one brother, who was more like a father figure. [He was 17 years older than Vivian.] The oldest child, one of my sisters, was born 18 years before me. I shared a bedroom with three of my sisters. Being the youngest of six, I quickly learned to speak up."

Vivian started kindergarten early, at the age of four and a half. She rememberedthis as being her choice: "The other children in the neighborhood were older than I, so I wished to start at a younger age in order to be with them. I was anxious to go to school."

Vivian completed high school in 1941, only 16, and was determined to go on to college. "My parents were unable to pay for my education, so I decided to take one year off and save money to pay for it myself." She worked during this time at a Woolworth's, a once ubiquitous chain of stores which sold everything from household items, toys, to pets. There was also a lunch and soda counter.

She worked her way through the University of Wisconsin, graduating with honors, her degree in sociology and psychology. While at Wisconsin, she was influenced by Max Otto, whose ideas of scientific humanism led her to question more the orthodox judaism of her family. She was also influenced by psychology professor, Norman Cameron.

After gradution, Vivian returned to New York to earn a master's degree in social work. There she met Robert (Bob) Plonsey, who would become her husband of 62 years. Her desire to "improve the quality of life for all" led to a job as a social worker in San Francisco, and then in Cleveland Heights (OH), where Bob would become one of the first professors of biomedical engineering at the Case Institute of Technology. Their son Daniel was born, and Vivian left work for over ten years to concentrate on being a mother. During this period, she was on the PTA, helped found a secular Jewish Sunday school and became known as a tireless activist for social justice and civil rights, and especially for peace, beginning with opposition to the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race.

When Vivian and Bob moved to Chapel Hill nearly three decades ago, she became an active member of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and later, a co-founder of Elders for Peace. She helped organize anti-war protests and vigils, and had many letters published in newspapers. Vivian considered herself an optimist, believing that all conflicts could be resolved peacefully, focusing on shared interests. She always stood up for the oppressed and the disadvantaged. Vivian was known as a loyal friend, and as a deeply caring, empathic, encouraging person, who loved to make genuine connections with others.

In addition to working as a social worker and as an advocate for peace, Vivian enjoyed "cooking, being with friends, reading and mothering."

Vivian is survived by her husband Robert of Chapel Hill; her son Daniel, his wife Mantra, and their sons, Cleveland and Mischa, all of El Cerrito, CA; her sister Evelyn Rhodes of White Plains, NY; and many nieces, nephews, and wonderful friends.

A memorial service will be held at Carol Woods (750 Weaver Dairy Rd., Chapel Hill), 2PM, Thursday, July 7.

To honor Vivian's memory, you might contribute to any group devoted to bringing peace, justice, and equality to the world.

Letters by Vivian and Bob Plonsey, which were published in the News and Observer:

Favorite Things:

The following is taken from a form my mother filled out, called "Essays for My Family."

Books: Jane Austen ("comfort reading"), A Delicate Balance, and The Tortilla Curtain.

Music: Joni Mitchell [especially the song, "Both Sides Now"], Pete Seeger, Classical music [espcially as performed by the Cleveland Orchestra, at Severance Hall and Blossom Music Center], and musical soundtracks [she would often sing these songs while working around the house, occasionally improvising lyrics to those in her path. These songs, and her unexpected modulations from key to key were most likely an influence on my compositions!]

Place: Berkeley, CA and Cleveland, OH ("lived there 26 years, and my son was born there")

Pet: Pasty [does she mean Patsy?] (cocker spaniel), Peter (Irish setter), Colonel [we would say: "part beagle and part we-don't-know"], and a family of siamese cats.

Hero:a "When I was little, I admired Eleanor Roosevelt." She would tell a story of seeing Eleanor Roosevelt once, but being too shy to go up and say hello. "Presently, I admire Howard Zinn (a retired historian who tells it like it is), and Dennis Kucinich (a former mayor of Cleveland)." She would probably add Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now to this list; she watched Amy's show almost every night. It was the only TV show she watched.

Year: "1948 (when I was married) and 1958 (when our son was born)"

Food: "Pasta (especially with garlic, olive oil and rum sauce)." Vivian gradually evolved into being 98% vegetarian in her last few decades.

Saying: "'We can always mature more.' 'It is important to plant seeds... of what you hope for.'"

Holiday: "Summertime (taking off on vacation)" which was nearly always the moth of August, and either camping, or traveling to Europe or Asia.

Sport: "Walking."

Joke: "There was a social worker who was making a home visit to the Lower East Side in New York. She saw a little boy of about five years old sitting on his mother's lap, drinking milk from a bottle. The social worker was appalled, and said to the mother, 'Don't you think he needs to be weaned? What about his teeth? Don't the other children call him a baby? Couldn't he develop a stammer?' The boy pulled the bottle out of his mouth and said, 'Hurts you?' (in Lower East Side accent).

The most amazing change that occurred during my lifetime: "After World War II, we were all optimistic about the United Nations, and that war would no longer occur. It was shocking when the Vietnam War started. Other wars, such as the War on Grenada and this war in Iraq and the threat of moving into Iran are sad disappointments as well. It is sad because there was promise that we would be a more caring society.
"Also, there were hard won struggles for civil rights and social security.
"I am not particularly impressed with technology, but it has given tremendous advances in medicine and communication.
"Growing older is definitely an amazing change."

The thing that has not changed since I was a child: "Releationships are the fundamental ingredient of life.
"Unfortunately, the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty did not change anything, and has not been lived up to.

What I wish I knew when I was younger: "I wish I knew how important it is to know yourself better. This is important because you do not allow conflicts, fears, or personality differences to prohibit enjoyment of life. There is so much joy to have in life.

What young people should know about old age: "You can still be creative and active in meaningful areas. You can continue to make contributions to things that are important to you and others.
"Relationships are still of prime importance. They are important because of what you give, what you receive, and what you share. They are important because they provide support, compassion, cosolation, and fun.

People I want to thank: "I would like to thank my parents. I thank my husband and my son for their patience, kindness, and understanding of me. I would thank my siblings for their encoragement and support. I would thank those who helped me understand myself better."