Prominent Boston-area therapist Edna Barrabee Grace enjoyed a long and successful career counseling couples. She helped many save their marriages by teaching them simply to be nice to each other. Edna shared her positive message in newspaper and magazine stories; as a guest on television and radio programs; and by hosting a TV segment, “Ask Edna.”
Born in Boston in 1914, Edna was the youngest of five children born to Dora and Colman Levin. Her father owned the Colman Levin Company, a prosperous carpet business. She attended Girls Latin School, Wheaton College, and earned her Masters at the Simmons School of Social Work.
In 1936, Edna married Paul Barrabee, who followed her into the profession of social work. Along with Jacob Finesinger, the two collaborated on “A Normative Social Adjustment Scale,” published by the American Journal of Psychiatry in October of 1955. As a psychiatric social worker, Edna did research at the Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Boston. For five years, she taught Marital and Sexual Therapy as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Tufts University School of Medicine.
Paul Barrabee’s sudden and untimely death left Edna a young widow with two small children. Dr. Emily Mudd, her late husband’s mentor, soon called Edna and invited her to train as a certified marriage counselor at the fabled Marriage Council of Philadelphia, which she did.
After returning to Boston, Ms. Grace established a thriving private practice in Boston’s Back Bay, and later, at her home in Chestnut Hill, to make it easier for clients to park. Her style of therapy was informal, with clients enjoying a cup of coffee while waiting their turn in her living room. She always offered her clients a range of options and the information necessary to make their own decisions.
In 1967, she remarried Gene Grace and supported his development of a successful mattress business. They stayed together until his death in the 1980s. Her last partner was Edward Lebowich. They spent eight years together, dividing their time between Chestnut Hill and Florida until his passing.
Although Edna’s health was good, when she hit her mid-80s, Edna decided to move to North Hill, a retirement community in Needham, Massachusetts. There she continued to broaden her circle of friends, interviewing new residents for The Hilltop, and enjoying water aerobics classes and jazz concerts right into her mid-nineties.
Much beloved for her warmth and enthusiasm, Edna is described as a “force of nature” for her incredible energy and the constant joy and laughter she brought into people’s lives. After retiring, she continued to give pro bono advice to family members, friends, and friends of friends. Her mind remained sharp and her disposition cheerful until her death in 2010 at the age of 96.
As Archivist for the Alpert and Levin families, Kathy Alpert is honored to write this piece about Edna Grace, one of her closest friends, who also happened to be her great aunt. Based in Watertown, MA, Kathy is a designer, writer, and historian, specializing in early to mid-20th century popular culture. Founder and Creative Director of PostMark Press (www.postmarkpress.com), she licenses her artwork to manufacturers seeking authentic vintage and retro looks.