In Memory of




Obituary for Marion R. Fremont-Smith

Marion Fremont -Smith, a leader in nonprofit law and scholar, died peacefully in her home of 60 years in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 30th, 2021. She was 95.

Born in 1926, Marion was the daughter of Frances (Davis) and Max Ritvo, M.D., both from Jewish families that emigrated from Russia in the 1890s. Frances, the former bookkeeper to Edward Filene (the department store owner), managed the office of her husband Max, who became the first fulltime Chief of Radiology at Boston City Hospital. The Ritvo family lived in Chestnut Hill where Marion attended the local schools. She graduated from Newton High School in 1944 and earned a B.A. with High Honors in Political Science from Wellesley College in 1948. She entered Boston University Law School, one of four women in her class of approximately 500 students. Elected to the Law Review, she earned her J.D., cum laude, in 1951. She was then admitted to the Massachusetts Bar and the U.S. Supreme Court Bar.

When her three children—Beth, Keith, and Brad—were young, she volunteered in several civic organizations including the state Democratic Party and taught as an Instructor in the Political Science Department at Wellesley College. Her professional career in nonprofits began in earnest in 1959 when her law-school classmate, Attorney General Edward McCormack, Jr., responded to Marion’s comment that the Division of Public Charities’ files needed better organization by inviting her to clean up the Division. Thus, she became Assistant Attorney General in charge of the regulation of charities.

In 1962, the Russell Sage Foundation engaged Marion to write Foundations and Government (1965), which quickly became the leading work on state and federal nonprofit law. She joined the Boston law firm Choate, Hall & Stewart in 1964, where she focused on tax-exempt organizations, trusts, and estate planning. In 1971, she was elected partner at the firm, making her one of the first female partners in a Boston law firm. She served as Senior Counsel at the firm from 1997 to 2004. In 1998, she returned to academia as a Senior Research Fellow at the newly established Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at the Harvard Kennedy School. At Harvard, she directed research on governance and accountability of nonprofit organizations at the Hauser Center, and she published many articles, ran conferences, and regularly taught courses in nonprofit law at Harvard Law School. Her third book, Governing Nonprofit Organizations (2004), which Marion described as a " long overdue update" of her first book, immediately became a classic. She was Co-Reporter (and later Consultant) on her final major publication, the American Law Institute's first Restatement of the Law, Charitable Nonprofit Organizations (2021).

Recognized as a leading voice in nonprofit law for over a half-century, Marion held many important positions and was awarded many honors. These included Trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for 26 years, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Director of the Council on Foundations, Chair of the American Bar Association Committee on Exempt Organizations, Member of the IRS Commissioner’s Advisory Group on Exempt Organizations, Director of the Independent Sector, and (the only) Lifetime Member of the Board of Advisors to the New York University School of Law Program on Philanthropy and Law.

Marion’s greatest source of personal joy and fulfillment always came from her family. She was a devoted mother to her three children from her first marriage (Joseph Miller, M.D.). Her marriage to Dr. Paul Fremont-Smith in 1961 brought five beloved step-children into her family. Marion delighted in the dynamic blended family of eight, as well as the large extended family she gained through her marriage to Paul. She enjoyed welcoming friends and family at her home in West Gloucester on Essex Bay where she spent all her summers until her death.

When she wasn’t reading, Marion greatly enjoyed the outdoors. As a child, Marion and her brother Ed were active, learning to ski at Commonwealth Golf Course behind her family home and later riding the first chairlift in New England at Mt. Cranmore. Her children started on skis at the Blue Hill in Milton and she enjoyed weekend ski trips with them to New Hampshire. Marion was an engaged “hockey mom”, rising early in the morning to deliver her sons to hockey practice by 6am. Once she finished tending to her flower border in Gloucester, she delighted in rounding up family and friends to play doubles tennis. Always a dedicated grandmother, Marion could be found on the sidelines of countless ice hockey, softball, lacrosse and tennis events throughout New England. Marion and Paul frequently sailed along the Maine Coast, and both children and grandchildren learned to enjoy being on the water.

Throughout her life, Marion remained an adventurous and passionate traveler. She and Paul made many trips to enjoy the art, antiquities and cuisine in France, Italy, Greece, England and Afghanistan. They delivered professional presentations in both Japan and China. After Paul’s death in 2000, Marion joined her sons Keith and Brad along with their families to destinations that included Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Ecuador, the Bahamas, Turkey, Portugal and France. In celebration of their 90th birthdays, she returned to Botswana with her treasured Wellesley classmate and friend, Nancy Bishop. In August of 2017 she joined her daughter Beth in Wyoming where they witnessed a rare total solar eclipse.

Marion Fremont-Smith was predeceased by her brother Edward Ritvo, M.D., (2020), her son Keith Miller, J.D., (2020) and her stepson Christopher Fremont-Smith (2008). Her surviving family includes her daughter Beth Johnsey of Worland, Wyoming; her son E. Bradley Miller M.D., and his wife Jennifer Hosmer, M.D., of Cranston, Rhode Island; her daughter-in-law Mary Miller of Newton, Massachusetts; her 6 grandchildren Evan Miller, Samantha Miller J.D., Caroline Miller, Austin Miller, Lauren Miller and Julia Miller; her 4 step children Paul Fremont-Smith, Jr. (Carol), Nancy Lincoln, Deborah Fremont- Smith, and Frances Fremont-Smith (Jia Li Jun); her cousins Robert Weinreb (Champa) and Marion Kaselle as well as her extended family of nieces, nephews, step grandchildren and step great-grandchildren.

Marion will also be remembered by her many dear friends and the countless lawyers, students, and colleagues whom she mentored and guided throughout the years. Her brilliant mind and remarkable life will serve as a memorial to the good a woman can do by observing three of the oldest truisms: love for all, devotion to a just cause, and perseverance in one’s vocation.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to The Massachusetts Environmental Trust, 100 Cambridge Street 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02114. The family plans to hold a memorial service at a future date.