by Len Lear
Eighteen years ago, shortly after I became the editor of the former Local Life section, I received a phone call from Carole Verona, who identified herself as a local freelance writer and asked if I would give her an assignment. Since my policy in cases like this is always to give the person an assignment and see how it works out, I did so.
The article that resulted, “Blind Germantown piano tuner makes beautiful music,” about a blind piano tuner for Cunningham Piano Co. named Dave Garnett, was beautifully written, empathetic but not maudlin and very moving. Countless assignments for Carole followed until last summer, when she wrote features about bands that performed in the Pastorius Park Summer Concert Series. Because of illness, Carole was not able to work on any more articles after that.
Among all the numberless freelancers I have worked with at the Local and for decades before that with other newspapers, Carole stands out. I cannot recall her ever making a factual error (I wish I could say the same thing about myself); her spelling, punctuation and grammar were flawless (again, highly unusual), and she was a pleasure to work with because of her warmth and compassion (and ability to meet deadlines).
On Tuesday, July 7, Carole Verona, 77, was found lifeless in the apartment building at Stenton Avenue and Cresheim Valley Drive, where she lived alone. Carole had been fighting a courageous battle with multiple myeloma. It was her second bout with cancer.
“However, throughout her ordeal, she never lost her optimism that she could somehow turn it around,” said her friend, Leigh Munro, a Chestnut Hill voice teacher and retired opera singer. “She endured a stem cell transplant a couple of years ago and endless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. She recently became a candidate at Fox Chase for an experimental treatment protocol but ran out of time. She was intelligent, kind, not a bad pianist, courageous, devoted Rufus Wainwright fan, loving parent to Tomas, her rescue cat companion, and a good friend.”
According to Joselyn Ney, a local artist and close friend, “Carole had a slew of friends, but she pushed at us because she hated being fussed over. Consequently, she died alone. That makes me so sad.”
Carole’s now-deceased parents were Peter and Nancy Verona. She was born in Abington Hospital on May 23, 1943. She was the youngest of three girls — Joanne, Betty and Carole. Betty died of cancer at a fairly young age. Carole grew up in Mt Airy. According to her best friend Dorothy Nickelson, “I asked Carole when I first met her why she had an ‘e’ on her name? She said her mother loved Carole Lombard, the actress married to Clark Gable, so she named her third daughter Carole with an ‘e.’”
Carole went to grammar school at St. Madeline Sophie in Mt. Airy, then to Ancillae-Assumpta Academy in Wyncote and eventually became a nun. While a nun, she took music lessons and became one of the principal organists in the convent. After she left the convent, she went to Temple University, where she took public relations courses and became accredited in that discipline.
Carole had a spiritual change of heart and eventually left the church. Subsequently, she converted to Judaism and became a devoted member of Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill over the last two decades.
“She was a member of our weekly Torah study group,” said Helene Levinson, an Or Ami member. “She edited the synagogue newsletter until she got too sick to do the job … She loved theater and music. I attended many productions with her. We went together to see ‘Hamilton’ in Philadelphia, but the love of her life was Rufus Wainwright. I am so happy that her friend, Leigh Munro, was able to contact Rufus, who sent her a video get-well message about a week before she died. She traveled the world to see Rufus … I loved her like a sister and will miss her terribly.”
According to Rabbi Kenneth Carr, who was the rabbi at Or Ami from 2001 to 2016 (and is now at Temple Chayai Shalom in Easton, MA), “Carole was already in the conversion process when I came to Or Ami, and I accompanied her on the final steps of that journey ‘across the finish line’ … Whenever she spoke, she offered an intelligent, considered point of view that contributed positively to whatever conversation we were having. She was such a good, thoughtful person; we all benefited from knowing her, and I think she benefited from knowing us as well. Thank you for honoring her memory with your obituary.”
Rabbi Glenn Ettman, who replaced Rabbi Carr in 2016, told us, “I am in shock. I loved her and loved everything about what she did and how open and friendly she was … And what has always fascinated me most about Carole, beyond her deep love and intellect, especially for theatre and Judaism, is the fact that she not only converted to Judaism but that she was a nun for many years … Those of us who knew her closest and best feel this loss dramatically. And when the sad news of her death reached the larger Or Ami community, there was a wave of support and love being shared about how much of a gem she was in life.”
According to Nickelson, “I have known Carole almost 40 years. We met at Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, where we both were freelance writers for Penn Mutual’ s corporate and agent monthly magazines. Carole was coming from a public relations job at Red Cross, which she had quit over ethical principles …
“She also had a wild sense of humor. The hardest part of the CoreStates Bike race was the infamous hill, and when the CoreStates press bus following the bikers went up the hill, some neighbors would throw water through the bus’ open window. When that happened, Carole would get buckets from the hospitality tent on the Parkway, fill them with water and throw the water back at the neighbors on the hill. Boy, were they surprised!
“Though cancer was ravaging her body over the last three years, she wasn’t about to go quietly into the night. She enjoyed weekly Torah studies at the synagogue, outings with friends, Quintessence plays and Fab Faux concerts. Carole loved life, and it loved her back!”
Carole will be cremated, and there will be a funeral service on Wednesday, July 15, 11 a.m., at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd.
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org