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Julie Albert: Passionate traveler, adventurous spirit

Passionate traveler, adventurous spirit, grandmother

Longtime Claremont resident Julie Albert, PhD, world traveler, renowned cook, mother, intellectual, humanitarian and friend to many, died May 22 at her home surrounded by family. She had spent the last several months in home hospice visited by a constant stream of visitors. She was 85 years old.

Ms. Albert was born in 1933 and grew up in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania with her parents, Leon and Mildred Maehling and younger brother J. Peter (Pete) Maehling. According to those who knew her in childhood, she always possessed a unique and adventuresome spirit, dressing up, acting in high school plays and offering dramatic readings of school bulletins over the public address system. It was during these high school years that she developed a lifelong passion for world travel, visiting Paris with her debonair and gregarious “Uncle Jake,” who worked as a travel guide.

Her longtime friend Susan Wagner remembered, “I always thought she would become an actress, because she had this really funny and dramatic side. And her travels were a really big deal back then. None of our peers in provincial Pittsburgh were going to far away planets like Paris!”

Lifetime friend James Lynne said, “The interesting thing about Julie was her dissatisfaction with what looked to me like a pretty good life. She always seemed to be aiming for something more worthwhile, something more helpful to her fellow humans.”

After graduating high school, she attended Smith College (alongside the poet Sylvia Plath, which she mentioned on occasion). It was in that period that she also took time off to spend a year at The Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow, India. Later she would recount how she fell in love with India and people she met there, only returning stateside after falling ill.

Upon graduating from Smith, she moved to New York City for two years where she worked as a guide at the United Nations. She then headed to Harvard University for a master’s degree in psychology. It was there that she came into contact with then-Harvard psychology professor Timothy Leary, who was conducting his now famous LSD studies.

“You could get $25 by either giving blood or taking LSD at the Harvard Psych Clinic,” Ms. Wagner recalled. “Julie opted for the latter. It seemed very brave and a little scary at the time. But that was her adventuresome spirit.”

After attending Harvard, she moved back to New York where she lived in the thriving West Village. She soon married Robert Albert, PhD. After stops in Saratoga Spring, New York and Willimantic, Connecticut, where sons Jesse and John were born, respectively, the family headed west to Claremont.

While her husband joined the faculty of Pitzer College, Ms. Albert began working at Loma Linda University as a clinical social worker. She eventually earned a PhD from the USC School of Social Work while continuing to work full time and raise two children.

Ms. Albert was dedicated to improving the world around her. She donated both time and money to an assortment of liberal causes and campaigned for a number of Democratic candidates, most notably President Obama. Until her final year, she volunteered at a local homeless shelter, waking before dawn several times a week to cook breakfast for the residents.

Throughout her life, she continued her travels, regularly visiting Paris and destinations such as Istanbul, Russia and others, embarking on several walking tours across Italy, France and Nepal. A mere five years ago, at the age of 80, Ms. Albert finally returned to India, visiting both Dehli and the southern region of Karala, where she enjoyed dining, drinking and talking politics with the local citizenry, even participating in a local women’s rights rally.

During her years in Claremont, Ms. Albert created a large and vibrant social life she considered her “village.” She was a renowned cook and conversationalist who hosted countless dinners and events, including a regular Friday night “salon” and a movie group.

In the final weeks of her life, while bedridden, her friends continued to gather in the next room, visiting with her and one another, celebrating life in the manner she would have approved, with a mix of spirits and lively conversation.

She is survived by her son Jesse and his wife Angela, and their sons Sean and Brendan; her son John, his wife Nalini and grandson Ravi. She absolutely adored her grandchildren and loved spending time with them—her sons too, but less so, her son quipped.

Ms. Albert’s inimitable and fiercely independent spirit will be missed by many. As she would have wished, in lieu of flowers the family asks for donations in her name to Doctors Without Borders at donate.doctorswithoutborders.org, or Planned Parenthood at weareplannedparenthood.org.