How Libby Became a Verb

While not composed by Libby Oldham, this excerpt from “My Mother the Verb,” written by Libby’s daughter Maia Farish, explains one reason why Libby was such a significant member of the Nantucket community. Published in Sound-Magazine.com, Summer 2016.


In 1996, as the newly installed executive director of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce, I was gearing up for the production of the annual guidebook. I had invited several local writers to submit articles inspired by Nantucket’s history, and I was meeting with the guidebook committee, chaired by Kate Stout, publisher of the erstwhile newspaper Nantucket Map & Legend, to review the articles. “Have these been Libbied?” asked a very serious Kate. I looked at her quizzically. She then broke into a broad smile and said, “Don’t you know that your mother has been turned into a verb?”

In my years off the island – during which, coincidentally, Libby retired as the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce — Libby had put her copywriting expertise into a professional practice on Nantucket and called it Wordworks.

(Libby tells me that when I was a toddler, when she made her living typing and proofreading scholarly manuscripts for the Bollingen Series, she would plop me in the playpen and dial up the weather lady on the telephone — a recorded message — with whom I prattled long enough for her to get a few pages typed.)

Over Libby’s time on the island, many Nantucket authors have counted on her — and still do — to polish their prose. She was copy editor of the original Nantucket Magazine, which ended its 18-year run in 2005, and has been copy editor for the Nantucket Preservation Trust for most of its existence.

I worked for a short time at the Nantucket Historical Association before transitioning to the Chamber of Commerce. At that time, the estimable Jean Weber was the NHA’s executive director, and she was desperate for someone to greet visitors and assist with archival research in the NHA Library which, at that time, was on the second floor of the NHA’s administration building on the corner of North Water and Broad streets. I asked Libby if she might be interested. She gamely accepted, volunteering for a spell, and then Jean hired her. Libby turned 89 this past March and she is still working at the NHA Library, long since settled into its beautiful space on Fair Street, greeting visitors and assisting with archival research. She serves as copy editor for the NHA’s always-fresh and content-rich magazine Historic Nantucket, and NHA exhibition labels are always Libbied.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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