Josephine C. Lavin
A Mother Behind It All
As a young woman in the 1930s, she was a female athlete – basketball – long before women did that sort of thing.
In college, where she was both class president and honors student, she was a math major – long before many women studied such things.
But it was the choice she made just after World War II that defined the life of Josephine Crawford Lavin. After the war, she married Thomas Francis Lavin, a returning soldier boy from across her northern Manhattan street.
Over the next 13 years, Ms. Lavin gave her husband nine children. Under her guidance, all would go on to graduate from college, more than one tutored by Mom through the rigors of algebra and trigonometry around the evening homework table.
“She was a musician, an artist, a mathematician. There were so many things should could have done in life,” said her eldest son Greg Lavin of Geneva. “But she chose to raise a family. And kid by kid you can see her in all of us.”
Josephine Lavin passed away peacefully on November 16, 2018 at the Geneva Living Center South. She was 99.
Much of motherhood is private, seen only by those on the inside of a family. For the nine Lavin children, there was no secret as to the success of this family. While their father, Thomas Francis Lavin, for a time vice principal of DeSales High School, was a gregarious and very public figure, a disciplinarian who worked for more than 25 years as “Major Lavin” at a military high school, it was, all agreed, “Mom” who brought order and humanity to the chaos always at the door of a family this large.
“Dad was a military guy, always ready to pass judgment and mete out punishments,” said Tom Lavin Jr. the third of the nine children. “Mom would quietly get him to think a bit more, weigh out the facts of a dispute between kids. Not to be too judgmental of their life choices. She didn’t contradict him. She rounded him out.”
When Greg and Tom – the two eldest Lavin boys – chose different paths during the Vietnam War, Jody Lavin would recount years later how she and her military husband laid in bed at night and talked through the challenges. Greg had chosen to go to prison rather than serve; Tom Jr. enlisted and went to Vietnam. Tom Sr. was embarrassed to have a son in jail, standing against the country’s law. Jody Lavin, however, saw the merits of both her son’s choices. In time, the family, including the boys’ father, came to see it her way.
“People who got to know my mother knew she was simply a kind woman, above gossip and exuding kindness to all,” Greg Lavin said. “Even throughout her later years, as she was struck by the kind of dementia that causes anger in so many, she always remained pleasant.”
For the last four years she was resident of the Living Center South at Geneva General Hospital where she entertained on the piano while she was able and maintained friendships that literally had to be restarted every day as dementia stole her short-term memory. She was a devout Catholic and sang in the St. Stephen’s Church Choir for years. To her final days, friends from her church visited and kindly reminded her of their earlier life.
Josephine Crawford was born August 17, 1919 at her family’s home in Manhattan. She was the daughter of Charlotte and N.Y. Supreme Court Judge Thomas Crawford. In her youngest years, the family was forced to move when their home was condemned to make way for the George Washington Bridge. The second of seven siblings, she was a graduate of Incarnation High School and earned her college degree at the College of Mt. Saint Vincent.
The Lavin family lived for years on the campus of Peekskill Military Academy in the Hudson Valley before moving to Lakemont Academy in Yates County and eventually, in 1970, to Geneva. In Geneva, Ms. Lavin taught English for a short time at DeSales High School and later worked as a bookkeeper for a local auto parts store. She was a regular volunteer at the Geneva Center of Concern and authored that organization’s official history.
But it was clearly the children she birthed and raised that remained the focus of her life. One daughter, Christine Lavin, was allowed in 1969 to take the only family car and begin a folk singing tour through the Midwest that eventually led to a career in music. She still performs across the U.S. today. A daughter, Jody Jr., was an All-American basketball player at the University of Rochester and went on to coach at Georgetown University and in the Olympic system. The other Lavins – a journalist, post office manager, psychiatric social worker, nurse practitioner, Cornell scientist and school teachers – all pursued lives influenced in their earliest years by their Mom’s love of books, her mastery of Latin and her care for public service.
She is survived by three of her six sisters Mary Adele O’Neill of New York, Patricia Crawford Brown of California, and Ann Storz of Connecticut; nine children Louise Lavin of Bakersfield, Calif., Greg Lavin of Geneva, Thomas Lavin of Rochester, Christine Lavin of New York City, Edward Lavin of Geneva, James Lavin of Chicago, Mary Lavin Slothower of Rochester, Christopher Lavin of Geneva and Jody Lavin Patrick of Vienna, Va.;16 grandchildren as well as scores of nieces and nephews and extended family and friends.
The Lavin family would like to extend thanks and gratitude to the staff of Geneva Living Center South for the exemplary care they provided to Josephine in the final stage of her long and productive life.
A community celebration of Josephine’s life is being planned and the date, time and location will be announced.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions in her memory be made to the Boys & Girls Club of Geneva or the Geneva Center of Concern.