Malvina Markman

Malvina Markman: 10/26/1925 — 09/21/2008 Family: Husband, Sidney; children: Sarah, Alexander and Charles

Malvina Man was born in Cuba to Polish parents who had hoped immigrate to the United States but were denied entry due to restrictive immigration laws. When Malvina’s mother, Toba Man, had a difficult time adjusting to the tropical climate of Cuba, the family moved to Guatemala where the weather was more temperate and where they found a small but tight-knit Jewish community.

Malvina learned Yiddish in the home and English at the English American School where her parents sent her. But Spanish was her native tongue, and years later she would tutor Americans wanting to learn the language, including a one-time rabbi at Duke.

After graduating from high school, Malvina attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. On a trip home to Guatemala City, she was introduced to Sidney David Markman, an American professor of art and archeology at the University of Panama who was traveling across Central America and eager for Jewish company.

The two married in 1945 when Malvina was barely 20. For two years, the couple lived in Guatemala City while Sidney pursued independent study of the nation’s Spanish colonial art and architecture. Malvina gave birth to Sarah in 1946.

One year later, Sidney was offered a position in the Art Department at Duke University. They moved into prefabricated faculty housing on Markham Avenue across from the east campus. In 1952, Sidney and his father built a frame house with cypress wood siding on Urban Avenue in Trinity Park.

By the time they moved to Urban Avenue they were a family of five, with the births of Alexander in 1947, and Charles in 1948. Malvina stayed home and cared for the children. Each summer, the family drove through Mexico to Guatemala City to visit Malvina’s parents, Toba and Gedale Man. The elderly couple immigrated to the United States in 1960. Both are buried in the Durham Hebrew Cemetery, as is Malvina’s sister, Teresa Koplowitz.

After the Markman children graduated from high school, Malvina took a job as a lab technician in the zoology department at Duke. For a while she also worked for the Environmental Protection Agency where she assisted in interviewing study subjects. In retirement, Malvina volunteered as a librarian in the Beth El library.

Although she never completed her undergraduate degree, Malvina was extremely resourceful and competent in many areas. Her son, Alexander, remembers his mother was the only one who could read his father’s handwriting, and through the years she transcribed and typed his books. And though English was her second language, she often corrected his spelling too!

Most of the time, she looked after the business of running the home, paying the bills, buying the necessities, caring for the children. She was a skillful hostess, and made guests feel welcome. In 2006, Malvina’s daughter, Sarah, died of cancer. The event threw her into a sadness from which she would never emerge. Two years later, Malvina suffered a series of heart attacks and died. One of her greatest comforts, her son Alexander said, was the Jewish community, and Beth El Synagogue. “It meant a lot to her,” he said, “and she took a genuine concern for other people in the community.”