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Irene Louise (Margolis) Backalenick
August 12, 1921 ~ December 16, 2023 (age 102) 102 Years Old
Irene Louise Backalenick, née Margolis, 102, long-time resident of Westport, CT, passed away peacefully in her apartment on December 16, 2023. She was born in Providence, RI on August 12, 1921, the only child of Max Margolis and Lydia (Silverman) Margolis.
Throughout a remarkable life, she rose from poverty in the Depression era to wide-ranging success in the age of artificial intelligence. There was nothing artificial about her intelligence. A woman of quiet clear opinions, she was, by any standard, brilliant. Often humble and self-deprecating, Irene was not one to laud her many accomplishments.
Despite graduating high school qualified only for secretarial work, she took a chance and applied to Brown University (then known as Pembroke College for Women). Because she performed so well on admissions tests, she was granted a provisional acceptance and a one-year scholarship. And when she exceled academically that first year, the college extended her scholarship for all four years. She went on to complete an honors English program, graduate Summa Cum Laude, and become a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
After graduation, she moved to New York City and worked as an editor and writer for various publishers and magazines. In 1947, she met and married William Backalenick, a budding commercial artist. To continue his career, they moved to Boston and had two children (Paul and Lynn). After several years, they moved briefly back to New York, where William joined lifelong friend and partner, Dan Cassel in a new advertising agency, Comart Associates. In 1955, the family moved out to the semi-rural suburb of Westport CT. There she had two more children (Lisa and Kim).
In Westport, she began writing for the local newspaper, the Westport Town Crier, initially covering the Circuit Court. She went on to write feature stories, often ground-breaking articles on suburban life, for the Bridgeport Post, The Westport News, the Brooks newspaper chain, and the New York Times. She was awarded a prestigious Publisher’s Award from the New York Times for outstanding feature writing.
An early feminist, and a quiet leader in the Women’s Movement, she organized “rap groups” for Westport housewives before most people even thought to proclaim women could be more than wives and mothers. Always a liberal, she was active in the League of Women Voters and in an organization supporting the United Nations.
While raising four children, she somehow found time to return to college and received a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Bridgeport.
In her 60s, she went on to get a PhD in theater history from the City College of New York. When she finished that program, she became a full-time theater critic writing reviews for the Connecticut papers, Theater Week, and Backstage Magazine, among others. She interviewed dozens of well-known theater personalities, including actors, directors and playwrights. In 1990, she was one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle. She was also a member of the Outer Critics Circle.
After a distinguished 30 year career as a critic, she retired in the early 2000s and began to pursue her own creative inclinations, including becoming a published poet and playwright herself.
Throughout her life, her insatiable curiosity and intelligence prompted her to continue learning. She enrolled one summer at Oxford University to study theater. She studied Spanish and traveled often to Mexico. She was fascinated by the art and culture of the Oaxacan people. The world, its many cultures and peoples, fascinated her and, enabled by her generous husband, she traveled to England, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Israel, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Caribbean, Egypt, and France, to name but a few.
Irene was predeceased by William (Bill), her husband of 67 years in 2015, and her daughter Lynn, who passed away in 2016. She is survived by her son Paul (Karen Loew), Lisa (Robert Kwasha), and Kim (David Escobar), as well as three grandchildren, Ethan, Kai and Alex.
A service is planned for Irene at the Watermark, 3030 Park Avenue, in Bridgeport CT, at 2:30pm, on Saturday, January 27, 2024.
If you wish to make a memorial donation in Irene’s name, two causes she supported were the Bridgeport Rescue Mission and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.