Community remembers professor Liz Rothlein

Professor Liz Rothlein
Professor Liz Rothlein

Liz Rothlein held many titles throughout her life: educator, author and overall leader. Rothlein dedicated 25 years of her life to teaching at the School of Education and Human Development, including 13 years as associate dean. She died on Jan. 6 at her home in Warne, North Carolina. She was 80 years old.

On Feb. 4, a memorial was held at the Watsco Center to celebrate her life. A crowd of about 50 family members and friends gathered in the Hurricane 100 room, perusing photos of Rothlein from her teenage years in Ohio to her time at UM.

Attendees had tears in their eyes but smiles on their faces as they remembered the life of a woman who impacted their lives. Her impact even reached a man serving drinks and catering for Chartwells at the memorial, David Canepa. He met Rothlein 16 years ago at another event he catered.

“She always seemed happy and happy to see everyone around her,” Canepa said.

Rothlein dedicated her life to teaching while inspiring others to follow in her footsteps. Throughout her life, she authored or co-authored about 30 books, books filled with activities and stories meant to instill children with a love for reading.

Kimberly Brandt, Rothlein’s daughter, welcomed people as they entered the memorial. She said she remembers her mother being project-oriented, always ready to move on to her next goal.

“It was important for her to make a big impact on the educational world, that she wanted to leave her mark,” Brandt said. “She wrote books, she did lectures, she always aspired to touch as many people as she could in the educational realm.”

Rothlein was awarded Teacher of Year at the university and listed as an outstanding Teacher of America, a national honor given to educators who demonstrate commitment to students’ successes.

Students weren’t the only ones to benefit from interacting with Rothlein; her influence extended to co-workers and peers, as well.

Rothlein hired Marilyn DeNarvaez in 1993. DeNarvaez has been at the university ever since and is now a senior administrative assistant in the School of Education.

“She was so kind-hearted and soft spoken and yet she stood up for you if you needed it. She had your back. She always had your back,” DeNarvaez said.

Valerie Giroux, a professor in the School of Communication, remembers being under Rothlein’s mentorship while receiving her PhD in Educational Leadership/Administration. Rothlein was hands-on in each of the courses she taught and worked as a mentor for PhD students in the School of Education.

“She was a good leader. She took a number of us PhD candidates under her wing,” Giroux said.

Giroux recalled being told she could never become a high school principal because she was a woman. When she had Rothlein as her mentor, Giroux would be allowed to teach some of Rothlein’s classes in the School of Education, a practice rarely done at the time.

“It meant a lot to me that she trusted me with her classes. It was good back in the day to have a strong woman leader. She inspired me. She was totally inspirational,” Giroux said. “I’m still here, 26 years later.”

Rothlein’s love for UM was rivaled only by her love for her family and friends.

Married to Ash Rothlein for 40 years until her death, Rothlein traveled abroad often with her husband, some summers even traveling to Switzerland and staying the duration of the season in a chateau.

“We took risks, traveling, doing anything. We never went on tours, we always went in a car, sometimes a two-cylinder car. We were always excited wherever we went,” Rothlein said. “We were never separated for forty years more than three or four days.”

Liz Rothlein is survived by her husband, her two daughters Terri Wild and Kimberly Brandt, two stepsons Jay and Steve Rothlein, four grandchildren Amanda, Jason, Tyler and Sophie, sister Linda Foley and brothers Jim and John Brandt.

Correction, Feb. 13, 2017: This article originally misspelled Valerie Giroux’s name as “Valeria Giroux.”