Jean Entine, activist and ally for Boston’s women of color, dies at 79

Ms. Entine grew up in the South as a white woman of privilege and ended up living in Cambridge, where she became an early ally for women of color — a founder of the Boston Women’s Fund and a tireless advocate for women of color gaining access to leadership roles.

She was 79 when she died May 17 in her Cambridge home of complications from hypertension and cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

“When I think about white allies, I think about how Jean stood up for women of color, knowing just when to take the back seat, step aside, or give up her place at the table because other voices were needed more,” Natanja Craig -Oquendo, the current executive director of the Boston Women’s Fund, said in an e-mail to those associated with the organization.

The activist and writer Angela Davis was a longtime friend of Ms. Entine.

“Whenever I think about the dedicated people who never give up on the dream of radical justice — for people in this country, in Palestine, and throughout the world — Jean Entine looms large,” Davis said in an e-mail. “She taught us how to define our lives in terms of robust commitments to justice for people we would probably never know as individuals. At the same time she always insisted on appreciating the joy and beauty of this world and the one to come.”

After moving from Long Island, NY, to Cambridge in 1978, Ms. Entine spent the rest of her life social justice causes.

Along with the Boston Women’s Fund, where she formerly was executive director, Ms. Entine’s work included formerly serving as executive director of Women for Economic Justice, as a program officer for The Boston Foundation, and as a consultant to various organizations.

“Jean used all of her skills and persuasion to convince philanthropists and corporate leaders to do their part in supporting women’s rights and economic independence,” Connie S. Chan, a professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies , wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.

“Jean was creative, resourceful, and engaging, with a great sense of humor,” said Chan, who formerly served on the Boston Women’s Fund’s board. “As a woman of color, I was always grateful for Jean’s ability to uplift and support girls and women of color through empowerment. She was instrumental in shaping the progressive future of the Boston Women’s Fund, leading it towards racial equality and all women’s rights, inclusive of all sexual orientations and identities.”

Ms. Entine expressed those values ​​in personal conversations, too, such ones she had with her late-in-life close friend Sandy Middleton of Cambridge, who also grew up in the South.

“I’m African American, Jean is white. We talked about how different our Southern girl-woman experiences were,” said Middleton, who formerly served on the Boston Women’s Fund board.

“We loved to walk around Cambridge, stop in and get a bite here and there, and just talk — talk about the South, talk about racial issues, talk about the need for justice in the current world and what were we going to do about it,” said Middleton, an ESL teacher at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and the Community Learning Center.

“Jean asked a lot of hard questions of herself, and had great expectations of herself as a privileged white woman,” she said. “I was proud to know her and benefited from having long conversations with Jean and talking about what we had in common, and how that was so much more important than our differences.”

Ms. Entine “was an extraordinary visionary and she was also not afraid to jump into the unknown,” said Hayat Imam, a former Boston Women’s Fund executive director.

“She was perhaps one of the most profound white allies to people of color,” Imam said. “She did this through lifelong attachments to people and groups — by providing people with support and philanthropy, and also with advice and by being there for them.”

Born in Memphis on May 21, 1942, Jean Goldsmith Marks was one of two sisters.

Their father was Edwin Marks and their mother was Sylvia Doris Goldsmith, whose family had started what became a department store that eventually was sold to Federated Department Stores.

As a girl, Jean, who was Jewish, wasn’t invited to play at a friend’s house because of that family’s anti-Semitism. Seeing how racism and sexism dictated the paths of many Memphis lives prompted her to leave the South.

She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in social work and from Fordham University in New York City in 1967 with a master’s degree in social work.

That same year she married Alan Entine. Before their marriage ended in divorce, they had two daughters — Jennifer, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2014, and Sarah, a documentary filmmaker in Berkeley, Calif.

“Her politics and her values ​​really shaped so much of our experience,” Sarah said of a childhood that included attending demonstrations with her mother. “Her favorite chant was: ‘The people united will never be defeated.’ That was the drumbeat in our lives.”

Sarah added that her mother, who also leaves her sister, Nancy Marks of Irvine, Calif., and three grandchildren, “really, really loved being a grandmother.”

A memorial gathering will be held at 2 pm Oct. 29 at First Church in Cambridge and will be streamed live.

Steve Schnapp, who formerly worked for the Boston-based group United for a Fair Economy and was a friend of Ms. Entine, said that “before the notion of intersectionality became popular, she was someone who connected the dots. She was always coming up with these creative notions.”

Among those was the 2,000 Club to support the Boston Women’s Fund. In the 1990s, Ms. Entine found hundreds of small-amount donors who became financially and personally invested in the Boston Women’s Fund by pledging $100 a year for five years.

“We have two bottom lines,” she told the Globe. “We won’t be successful if we are only wealthy in dollars and not also wealthy in participants.”

Ms. Entine also didn’t hesitate to seek out large donors.

“She was absolutely fearless in asking people for money,” said Brinton Lykes, a Boston Women’s Fund cofounder and a Boston College professor of community and cultural psychology. “She saw fund-raising, I think, as political action. Her persuasive strategies were heartfelt. They were yoked to the issues.”

In her e-mail, Davis wrote that she “was highly impressed” by Ms. Entine’s efforts “to introduce structural change into the philanthropic community. Jean really believed in dismantling the hierarchies that were often reproduced even by those who thought they were bringing justice to marginalized communities.”

Ms. Entine, Davis said, “was one of those extraordinary activists who made the work of fighting for social justice appear utterly normal and unexceptional, even as it was surely capable of producing earth-shattering transformations. She was a sister comrade for the long haul.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.

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