Eleanor Rebecca Silliman Boardman, known to all as Rebecca, died suddenly and unexpectedly, but peacefully in the early afternoon of Saturday, November 15, as she lay on a couch reading “Freaky Green Eyes” by Joyce Carol Oates while she waited to go on a dog walk with a friend. She was a four-year survivor of pancreatic cancer and had been living a vibrant, healthy life of caring for family and friends, and especially her first grandchild born in July. She also volunteered for Meals on Wheels every week and helped mothers with newborn children through Good Beginnings. An avid reader all her life (she once read Proust aloud to her husband), she was a volunteer/employee at the Norman Williams Public Library.
Rebecca had just turned 66 in October. The precise cause of her death is presently unknown. She was free of cancer as of her most recent CT scan. A full autopsy is planned; the preliminary result suggests that she was still cancer-free and the likely cause of death was sudden, severe heart arrhythmia.
Rebecca was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 4, 1948, and spent the first year or so of her life in Texas, where her father, Dr. Warren Benjamin Silliman, was serving in the Air Force. Dr. Silliman and his wife, Louise Boger Silliman, settled in Windsor, Connecticut, where he practiced family medicine and she taught music. Rebecca grew up in Windsor with three younger siblings, two sisters and a brother. She is descended from Benjamin Silliman, the 19th century scientist for whom Silliman College at Yale is named.
Rebecca graduated from the Chaffee School (prior to its merger with Loomis) and went on to earn her B.A. in French from Middlebury College in 1970. While in college, Rebecca spent a year studying and working during in Paris 1968-69. Her first job out of college was as a French teacher and she maintained fluency in French throughout her life.
In 1970, while she was still only 21 years old (almost 22), the Woodstock Country School in South Woodstock, Vermont, hired her to teach French and to be the co-head of Bailey House, a boys’ dorm. She taught at the school through the summer of 1976 and took on various administration jobs, including a stint as Dean of Students.
At the school in the summer of 1971, Rebecca met her future husband, William Boardman, who had come to teach drama there. They remember the time as magical, as Rebecca often told her children, “After I met your father, my feet didn’t touch the ground for a year.”
After leaving the Country School, Rebecca worked for awhile in a law office, until her first child, Benjamin, was born in January 1982. Her second child, Diantha, was born in May 1983, on Mothers Day.
In late 1983, Rebecca purchased the Rainbow Playschool in Taftsville, a for-profit daycare business started the year before by Katy Dana. Rebecca ran Rainbow till 2003, shepherding it through two moves to its present location at the Little Theatre in Woodstock. In 1994, she had converted Rainbow from a for-profit to a non-profit 501(c)(3) institution.
In semi-retirement, Rebecca started and ran the Hancock Granite Project, an online business in which she mostly sold valuable books on behalf of individual clients and herself. During these years, she delivered many meals on wheels to clients in Bridgewater, Woodstock, and Pomfret. She also supplied support and comfort for a number of mothers with newborns. And behind the circulation desk at the library, she remained her smiling, chatty self.
In the spring of 2010 she had jaundice of such bright yellow that even doctors and nurses were startled by her color. Luckily, as it turned out, the jaundice led to the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in a tricky but operable form. She went through chemo and radiation treatment and in January 2011 she had a Whipple, one of the most invasive surgical procedures, to remove her cancer. Due to other complications, she had to be opened up twice more, but the cancer was gone and, in time, she recovered.
After a lifetime of straight hair, she was rewarded with curly hair by this treatment and she looked younger and more radiant than ever. Throughout her life she enjoyed gardening and, this fall, she persuaded a Night Blooming Cereus to bloom on three separate occasions. She was also a creative and adventurous cook, ever since she studied French cooking in Paris (which she taught in French at the Country School). She is thought to be the creator of the breaded chicken breast known as “Chaud Veaux Faux.”
She is survived by her husband, her daughter Diantha of New Orleans; her son Benjamin and his wife Nyssa, her grand-daughter Carter Belle Boardman, all of Jamaica Plain, Mass.; and her three siblings, Amy Silliman Avedesian of Windsor, Conn., Molly Silliman Morrison, of Denver, Colo., and Richard Warren Silliman, of Chestertown, Md.
She is also survived by her dog Roger, one of the many dogs and cats she loved and cared for during her life. When one of her cats once caught a ruffed grouse, she cooked and ate it with her husband. When the same cat caught an ermine, she had a taxidermist turn it into a little ermine rug.
Donations in Rebecca’s memory should be made to the Rainbow Playschool or the Norman Williams Public Library, both in Woodstock.
A memorial service in appreciation of Rebecca’s loving and caring spirit will be held at the Norman Williams Public Library at 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 29.