Elizabeth (Liz) Franzen Potter ’59, daughter of longtime Math teacher and Head of Upper School Ruth Franzen, was one of five “stalwart members” of her class, which also included Alison Coleman Forbis, Linda Fox Bierrie, Nancy Rosenberry Hoit and Meg James Rapp.
A page in their yearbook, “Out of the Past,” chronicles their growing up at Spence after entering in 1946. Meg “officially opened the activities” when she pounded Alison’s thumb with a hammer in Kindergarten; they “plunged into a storm of American history and geography” in fourth grade. In Middle School, they got their first taste of Latin and “discovered to our joy in Science class that fudge is a supersaturated solution.” In Upper School, they “presented an allegorical play called Everyman,” and they “weathered our first College Board with only slight damage.”
Liz puzzles about today’s term, “survivor,” for girls who stay for the full K-12 experience at Spence: “I loved every single year of it, and our class was really spectacular.” Calling out her classmates’ impressive college admissions, “Early decision for seven out of 22; four to Radcliffe, one to Smith, one to Wellesley, one to Bryn Mawr,” she adds, “We were really pretty high-powered, but we were also very cohesive.”
Still a staunch advocate—gleeful that her granddaughter is also attending an all-girls’ school—Liz shares that making her college choice, she decided it was time for her to find out about and ‘live’ with the boys. She wryly recalls, “Well, in college the first problem was seeing boys around in the daytime. I knew they appeared in the evening and took you out.” She was the only girl in one of her first sections at Radcliffe, a pattern that persisted onto Harvard Law School, where she was among 27 women in a class of 500. “I decided in the seventh grade that I wanted to be a lawyer...I think the school told us we could be anything we wanted to be,” she recalls.
Now a partner at one of Boston’s leading firms, Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP, she recalls her initial dismay when she found the prospect of getting a job in one of the “downtown firms” quite dim. Liz interjects an unflinching practical view of the inequities that she experienced: “When I started working, there were no women partners at the big firms, so I just never expected to be a partner. But I was kind of programmed to enjoy myself and do what I was offered.” She also counts luck as always being on her side. During her third-year business-planning seminar when she realized she would like to pursue trusts and estates, her professor’s firm “suddenly had an opening for an associate in trusts and estates, and there I was standing in front of him.” After taking seven years off to raise two children, she was again in the “right place at the right time” landing a part-time job, which was unheard of at the time. “So the more the kids went to school, the more I went to work,” she says.
Describing her work as “half psychology and half tax as we try to deal with the complexities of families and inheritance,” she helps her clients thoughtfully plan and chart their legacy. She notes that working with women, she sees a difference in their philanthropic approach: “Women traditionally are more conservative about money. When I work with women, particularly widows, they tend to be a little more cautious. They don’t want to run out of money.” And citing her own experience, she shares, “I’m basically a conservative person anyway, but I’ve been widowed twice, and that may have made me feel a little nervous about the future.” She does practice what she preaches daily at work—she is a Spence IndiSPENCEable, having given generously to the Annual Fund for at least 10 consecutive years, and is a member of The 1892 Society, Spence’s planned giving society.
Compelling gratitude for her formative years continues to fuel Liz’s deep connections with Spence and her Spence friends. She has missed very few Spence Reunions and helped plan her 55th Reunion in May. Counting the original five (Meg is the only member who has passed away) and quite a few more who joined the class along the way, Liz claims, “They are still my best friends.”
With a humble tone, Liz reflects on her Spence experience, her teachers and her friends: “I owe them everything really. I wouldn’t be where I am today. Maybe I would have been equally impassioned about being a lawyer and plowing through, but they certainly pointed me in the right direction.”