You are here

Share Share Share Share Share Share Share

Joan Berman Cutler

1930 – 2010

by Ellen Cutler Calmas

Let me start by apologizing publically to my mother for using the “G” word, “grandmother,” in the papers.

She was “Joany” to everyone, including all our children.

She was Joany to so much of Boston.

She was the prettier half of Joan and Ted, and half of an amazing couple that brought about so many full-fledged improvements for the City of Boston.

As so many people have suggested, my mother was a presence. Not only that she had a presence, but that she was one.

She was a force of one within a room, within a community, within a family, within all our lives.

She had a profound, distinct, meaningful and memorable relationship with each of her immediate family members, and each of her many nearest and dearest friends… We were all her favorites.

At her core, my mother was a pragmatist, a realist, a consensus builder, and a friend. She was unique in her devotion to friends as family and family as friends. To her credit, she was the adopted mother of many people who needed to fill a void in their lives. She voided out a lot that many people were missing—she always thought she got a lot back in return.

My mother would be spitting mad at all of us for letting out her age, something she valiantly a.k.a vainly hid for many years.

Yet while we joke about her reluctance to age, the poignancy behind the veneer is telling in that my mother always wanted to live, to be with the “hip” crowd, to know what was real, to make a difference in peoples’ lives, especially her family’s, and to share it all with my father because their marriage was so critically important to them both.

My father was the center of her world, and her decisions about even the smallest of things centered on what would make him happy. The life they built together was a reflection of that devotion along with their devotion and joy at being together with everyone on the Cape. We should all be lucky enough to have what they shared.

…It may surprise many of you to know that my mother was a woman of great emotions—but unless it was laughter or concern you’d never get to see it. Nor would she let you have too many other outward feelings yourself—not if they could possibly disrupt the equilibrium she worked so hard to maintain for all of us.

Joany was a one of a kind lady. She would say “phew, they threw away the mold” but she was also so proud when she saw glimpses of herself in all of us. She loved that my brothers and I clearly look like her side of the family and that sometimes the G-kids do too.

She loved everyone’s whacky senses of humor and being with my dad as the orchestrators of our whacky family times.

She loved that we’d come together by choice, not obligation, and could really enjoy each other. She loved that we’d leave eventually and she and dad could be alone.

She’d literally give you the shirt off her back—or take yours if she liked it.

She was rather fond of pretty things.

My mother was also the queen of “didyaever”—didyaever have a headache, a broken this, a lousy that?

Didyaever have the same experience that she did too so she could affirm her momentary kvetch was insignificant.

But Joany was never really one to complain. And to answer the question so many people have asked, she really wasn’t sick. She had a lot of pain from her neck and back, but she’d never tell you so.

She’d put on those great looking Manolos with the ridiculously pointy heels that made her fabulous legs look fabulous. She’d have her hair done, get a facial, take a nap, have a little shot of something to smooth a few lines. She’d do anything to maintain her classic beauty, but she’d never complain.

Joan Cutler and Ellen Cutler Calmas circa 2009
Full image
Joan Cutler and her daughter, Ellen Cutler Calmas, circa 2009.
Courtesy of Alan Dine Photography.

She’d tell you to get over whatever ill came your way as “part of life’ and ‘things we just have to deal with.’ And she lived her life that way too.

She’d defer to dad on a lot of things, but not without a high decibel discussion.

She’d do most anything to make us and dad happy. She was amazing that way. She’d do the same for friends or anyone she thought was worth the time, which meant most everyone.

Ellen Cutler Calmas is the daughter of Joan and Ted Cutler.



by Jonathan Soroff

In the history of the Four Seasons, the valets have never parked as many cars as they did for the hordes who came to pay their respects to the family of Joan Cutler, the Boston philanthropist and socialite who died in September at her home on Cape Cod.

A clear indication of how deeply she’ll be missed, that statistic pales in comparison to the amounts of money she gave away with her husband, Ted, to such causes as the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, Emerson College, the Greater Boston Food Bank, Boston Ballet, Silent Spring Institute and countless others, not to mention such civic-minded gestures as funding the lighting of the trees along the Comm. Ave. Mall (a charmingly extravagant gift to the citizens of Boston, and one for which the Cutlers received inexplicable criticism).

But far from being a checkbook Patron Lady Bountiful, Joan Cutler gave her time and energy, leveraging her connections and her fearlessness in asking other people to donate to worthy causes. And unlike many women who attend galas and benefits to see their names in print or climb some invisible social ladder, she genuinely enjoyed herself and was as friendly with the person who sold her the ball gown as she was with the society crowd she wore it around.

A tremendous light has gone out. Boston is a poorer place for it. And if she’d been alive to see all those cars being parked at the Four Seasons in her honor, Joan Cutler would’ve been incredulous (and slightly embarrassed) by all the fuss, and she would’ve said something along the lines of: “All this, and we’re not even raising money for charity?”

Originally published in the “Last Scene” column in the Improper Bostonian.



by Ellen Cutler Calmas

My mother never said “I love you” but we all had
no doubt.

She had a language all her own to show emotion,
but nothing we could repeat in temple.

She loved to laugh and could be found in a room

She loved skinny, money, good looks, travel,
fashion, food, and fun.

She thought most people had “a look” which wasn’t
always good.

She adored being with her family and especially
all our kids.

She adored being with my dad, most especially on
the Cape or in
St. Barths when they could act like newlyweds.

She liked anything glittery and sparkled at the
idea of doing something good—and she did so many good things.

treated everyone with respect and respected anyone who tried to be anyone.

More on: Philanthropy
Joan and Ted Cutler, 2006
Full image
Joan Cutler and her husband Ted at a Chrons & Colitis Foundation benefit, 2006.
Courtesy of Alan Dine Photography.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Joan Berman Cutler, 1930 - 2010." (Viewed on January 20, 2017) <>.

Donate in Memoriam

Make a donation in memory of Joan Berman Cutler.

donate now

Sign Up for JWA eNews


Discover Education Programs

Join our growing community of educators.

view programs