When Taya Seligman, daughter of a New York City book publisher, arrived at Vanderbilt University in 1946 as a 17-year-old and encountered the Confederate flag prominently displayed in the administration building, she announced to the dean that she would turn around and go home unless the flag were removed — and it was.
Four years later, when Taya requested a ticket to her graduation for a beloved friend, Mrs. Clara Johnson, and the dean told her he “could not issue one for a Negro guest because a lady might not want to be seated beside her,” Taya responded, “Well she wouldn’t be a lady then, would she?”
Taya (née Greenberg) Seligman lived and died on her own terms, answering only to God and her conscience. In 1949, she married Harold Seligman of Nashville, becoming part of the tapestry of his family as well. After they divorced, Taya lived in Florida, Connecticut, Kentucky and eastern Tennessee, before moving to Keene in 2002. At 92, her life well-used and her bountiful love well-lived, she died in her sleep in a third-floor walk-up she’d insisted upon so she would be eye level with the trees.
Her deepest joy arose in mothering her three children: Harold Jr., who predeceased her in 1972, and her daughters Leaf and Sand, both of whom live nearby and relished being able to spend time with Taya every week for the last many years.
Taya graduated from Vanderbilt Law School in 1953, one of three women her in class, and used her legal education in a variety of professional capacities, including juvenile probation officer, counselor with the Stamford, Conn., Commission on Aging, and working with state mental health agencies. Her favorite job was running the tumor clinic at Nashville General Hospital — a position she garnered by telling the interviewer that while she lacked any formal social work training, she had just spent two weeks with her mother as she lay dying in the indigent ward of a New York cancer hospital, and that was education enough.
Known for her chutzpah and her quintessential Jewish Mother habit of offering visitors a nosh and beverage before they sat down, Taya delighted guests with the warmth of her welcome and generosity of spirit, exemplified when the mailman admired a painting on her wall, and she insisted he take it home.
In the 19 years Taya lived in Keene, she volunteered with CASA, completed the DeMar Senior Marathon in 2016, walking a mile a day for 26 days with her daughter, Sand, and ardently supported the Keene Public Library, as perhaps its most voracious reader.
Taya requested there be no memorial event. The only service she wished for is that we offer to our fellow beings: human, animal, arboreal. If you wish to honor Taya, you can contribute to the National Wildlife Federation or the Nature Conservancy or, better yet, follow her dictum so that “when the whistle blows, make sure your last act is a kind one.”
In addition to her daughters, Leaf and Sand, Taya is survived by her brothers: Marks Greenberg of Putney, Vt., and Garry Greenberg of Prescott, Ariz., their families, and the extended family of her late (much beloved) sister, Lee Sela in Israel; a host of cousins; and younger generations fortunate to claim Taya as their ancestor.