Ethel Romm was a wonderful woman who contributed greatly to the Roosevelt Island community. Sadly, Ethel Romm died last month. Daniel Romm shares the obituary of his mother, Ethel Romm.
On November 9, 2021, Ethel Grodzins Romm died after an extraordinary life that encompassed careers as an engineer, interior designer, educator, author, journalist, construction manager, and technology company CEO. For 15 years she was Co-Chair of the Lyceum Society of the New York Academy of Sciences. She is also remembered as a lively raconteur, creative entertainer, and loving mother. She was 96 years old.
Romm was born on March 3, 1925, in Lowell, Massachusetts, the oldest child of David Melvin Grodzins and his wife Taube Grodzins, eastern European Jewish immigrants. She grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, and graduated from Manchester Central High School in 1942. Her brother Lee became a physicist and inventor, and her sister Anne Lipow was a librarian and library science expert.
Upon graduating from high school, Romm was trained as a mechanical engineering draftsman at Bausch Machine Tool Company in Massachusetts. With many men away from home serving in the war, she was quickly hired by the U.S. Air Force at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts as a civilian draftsman, where she stayed for the rest of World War II, becoming a project supervisor. When the men returned, the Air Force fired the women whom they had trained. Romm later said wryly, “They couldn’t teach drafting to monkeys, so they had to hire women.” She worked for Associate Engineers, Inc., in Agawam, Massachusetts, from 1946 to 1954, where she headed crews that designed power transformers for General Electric.
She married newspaper reporter Al Romm (1926–1999) and moved, in 1957, to Middletown, New York, where her husband became the first editor of the Times Herald-Record newspaper. The couple had three sons: David, the host and producer of Shockwave Radio Theater on KFAI-FM; Daniel, a rehabilitative physician; and Joseph, a writer, physicist, and climate expert. Romm and her husband threw large, colorful parties at their home in Middletown, often for the casts of Broadway touring companies or politicians. Romm’s 50th birthday celebration had a “half century” theme. The invitation was printed half in gold and half in silver; it asked guests to “bring half a covered dish, so you don’t go home half-starved”.
During her 25 years in Middletown, Romm became an author, journalist, and interior and construction designer, and lectured on those subjects at Orange County Community College. In 1960, she won her third Dorothy Dawes Awards for excellence in home furnishings reporting. Romm has had articles published in Editor & Publisher, the ABA Journal, Esquire, New York Magazine, and Huffington Post, among others. She has written about ’60s counterculture and the underground press (The Open Conspiracy (1970)), writing and editing style.
In 1972, Romm and her husband were invited to the White House as part of a gathering of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The Secret Service became aware that Romm had a reputation for speaking her mind and was opposed to the war in Vietnam. While the couple was waiting in the reception line to meet President Richard Nixon, a Secret Service Agent asked Romm her intentions regarding any statements that she might make to the president. Romm and her husband left the White House without meeting the president and later received an apology from the White House.
Hartz, Niton and Later Years
Romm divorced and moved to New York City, where she continued to write. She was a project and construction manager for Hartz Mountain Industries from 1984 to 1988.
From 1988 to 2005, Romm was President, Chief Executive Officer and co-owner of Niton Corporation in Bedford, Massachusetts, founded by her brother Lee, which designed, built and sold lead and radon detectors, portable X-ray analyzers, and other environmental science equipment. Romm and her family sold Niton to a publicly traded company in 2005. Now 80 years old, she retired, returning to live in New York City.
From 2001 to 2016, she was Co-Chair of the Lyceum Society of the New York Academy of Sciences, which arranges lectures, discussions and other events for retired and semi-retired members of the Academy. She was also a member of the Roosevelt Island Resident Association Common Council. In 2016, the Jewish organization Workmen’s Circle devoted its annual winter benefit to a presentation on Romm’s life and work. She lived for the last few years in Washington, D.C.
Romm is survived by her sons Daniel and Joseph, granddaughter Antonia, grandson Jake and brother Lee.
Ethel and I were linked both by our love for Roosevelt Island and for our association at The New York Academy of Sciences where I ran the local lecture series for over twenty years and she hosted the Lyceum Society for retired members.
I will never forget my first foray into Roosevelt Island politics when I ran for the presidency of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) representing this community through Island-wide elections. In 2000, running for my first term as RIRA Prez against an incumbent and as an unknown, I campaigned hard.
Having set up a table in Island House to greet my neighbors there, Ethel joined me and, when residents passed me by (as they sometimes did), she raced down the hall, shanghaied the miscreants, and brought them back to be harangued (excuse me persuaded) by… ME.
You want a shaker and mover like Ethel in your corner and my victory that year owed much to Ethel Romm!
Here’s Ethel Romm describing her experiences working as a woman in the construction industry during an April 14, 2016 Non-Traditional Employment For Women/Cornell Tech job apprenticeship presentation.
Also, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) singing Happy Birthday to Ethel on her 91st birthday
and an 88 year old Ethel Romm explaining that she stays healthy and fit by walking up 20 flights of stairs daily in her Rivercross building.
Ethel was a one-of-a-kind.
Condolences to her family, friends and neighbors.