The live music every Tuesday at the Witherspoon Grill changes, but one visual constant is Mary Anne Haas and her shock of brightly dyed hair.
Freshly retired after 19 years with the nonprofit International School Services (ISS) on Roszel Road, Haas rents an apartment directly above the restaurant and overlooking bustling Hinds Plaza. Haas is not the shy, retiring type; she is the active retiring type. A member of both the Arts Council and the Princeton University Art Museum, she also takes painting classes at the Cranbury Station Gallery on Palmer Square and takes full advantage of the programming at the library across from her balcony. And she walks — three miles every day from Witherspoon Street to Snowden Lane and back.
Lots of people notice her, principally because of her distinctive hair color — pink, yellow, green, or all of the above. Haas gets her hair done at Godfrey Fitzgerald’s on Witherspoon Street. “There’s a young man named Zach,” Haas says. “I let him do what he wants.”
So how does a person know when it’s time to retire? Who better to ask than a retired person, who presumably has the wisdom that comes with age? And Haas’s opinion should be especially valuable, since she didn’t retire at age 65 or 70, and not even at 80. Mary Anne Haas retired at age 90.
So when is it time to retire? “If you enjoy what you do, then it doesn’t matter what age,” she says. “You should just keep on doing it.”
Arriving in town in 1996 after spending 30 years in Rome and Athens, Haas has long since embedded herself into Princeton. After working under four different presidents over 19 years at ISS, she retired in June shortly after the conclusion of the organization’s 14th annual Women’s Symposium.
Returning home after her last day at work, the first thing that struck her was now superfluous paperwork that had accumulated. “I tore up all the paper at home, it was just great,” Haas said.
Her legacy at ISS will be founding and organizing the ISS Women’s Symposium, an annual event at the Chauncey Conference Center that celebrates female leadership in education. The event will hereafter be named after her, and she’ll be the keynote speaker at the one next year.
Mary Anne Wolpin was born in Seattle. Her parents were Hasidic Jews who emigrated from Russia. Her father, a Talmudic scholar, had found work out west, and the Wolpin family settled in the African-American part of Seattle.
Haas says growing up as one of only two white families in the neighborhood was a formative experience. “I have felt at home wherever I am and I believe we’re all members of the human race,” Haas says. After graduating from high school during World War II, Haas and a friend left town intent on “meeting guys.” She says her four younger brothers are Hasidic Jews who collectively have 45 children, but Haas was never interested in participating.
In San Francisco she met her husband, Stanley, and they married in 1949. Discharged from the army, Stanley finished his college degree under the GI Bill and then attained a PhD in education. While he was studying, Haas worked as a bookkeeper to support the family.
They lived in Palo Alto for more than a dozen years, where Stanley served as the principal of an elementary school on the Stanford University campus.
Haas loved raising her son and daughter in sunny California. Then her husband received an offer to be headmaster at the American Overseas School of Rome. “I could tell he really wanted it,” Haas says.
They lived abroad for 30 years. After eight years in Rome, which Haas ended up loving more than Palo Alto, her husband accepted a post as the superintendent of American Community School in Athens in 1974.
In 1978 Stanley became executive director of Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools (NESA). By then her two children had gone back to the states. Her son, Philip, is a filmmaker and artist in England, and daughter, Leslie Emanuel, is a psychologist in Connecticut.
Over time Haas became more involved in NESA. After a year of illness, her husband died in 1996 and Haas assumed his position as executive director for one year. NESA then offered Haas the newly created position of director of development. “You know what that job means: going out to get money,” Haas said.
At the age of 69, after 22 years in Athens, Haas arrived in Princeton for the first time to work for ISS.
When Haas first moved to Princeton, she rented a house on Chestnut Street and relocated to another on Cedar Lane, near the Jewish Center. At both residences she ultimately had to move because the landlord was selling the property, and four years ago she moved into the apartment complex overlooking Hinds Plaza.
Haas says her eyes and ears are always open for new adventures. But this dwelling, she says, is her “last one,” and she’s certainly making the most of it.