“She could just charm people. Wherever she went, people wanted to be with her.” And Marcelle Harrison went to a lot of places, said her sister, Andrea.
Born and raised in Fairhaven and New Bedford, Marcelle and Andrea Harrison traveled together to Greece in 1967 to see where their grandparents were from. “We took a boat and picked up a Volkswagen Bug in Amsterdam, and we drove to Greece and back. It was 6,000 miles,” Andrea recounted.
They drove through Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Italy; Andrea took the wheel, and Marcelle, “bubbly and outgoing,” took on the role of translator, asking for directions at their stops along the way. One such stop was a radio-less bar, where the sister-duo filled the silence with their rendition of seven-minute “Born in a Trunk” from the 1954 film, “A Star is Born.”
“She knew every word.”
Marcelle and Andrea also brought music to Greece, where they became business partners with some Australian men. The group opened a disco in a natural mountain cave, one that had been used as a bomb shelter in the Second World War. They even adorned their disco with a life-size statue of a mermaid, complete with a mask of Marcelle’s face.
“We did a lot of laughing together,” said Andrea.
Meeting their husbands there, the sisters spent a few years in Greece and went back to visit several times.
When she returned to the States, Marcelle moved to New York City. “She had about 400 pieces of costume jewelry — she would wear these big, audacious things. She was ahead of her time. She wore all that diamond stuff. She was like a beatnik and wore black turtlenecks, lived in the village, went to see all the jazz people. That time … in New York, it was a different place.”
In the city, Marcelle worked as an administrator in Einstein Hospital’s detox unit and then in Queens County Hospital’s alcohol program. “An extraordinary friend,” Marcelle extended her care for others into her personal life, too: “She was very kind to her friends who always seemed to have different kinds of trouble.”
After Marcelle’s retirement, her family began to notice signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Marcelle returned to New Bedford in 2012 to move in with Andrea and then later to a nursing home. Due to the nursing home’s limitations in caring for Alzheimer’s patients, Marcelle was moved to St. Anne’s Hospital. Her whole unit contracted COVID-19, and she died less than a week later on May 26, 2020, at Carney Hospital in Dorchester.
“First Alzheimer’s took her from us, and now the coronavirus.”
Before Alzheimer’s took its toll, Marcelle recorded many of her experiences. Andrea says that her sister “was really a writer.” With four drawers full of short stories based on her own life, Marcelle had more tales to tell.
“I haven’t read (the stories) yet because a lot of them are so personal that it’s kind of hard,” Andrea said. “But I’ll eventually do it.”
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