Dorothy Smith Mullen, an environmental, food, and healthcare activist, died in hospice care at home in Princeton on March 15. She was 64.
Dorothy was a teacher of gardeners young and old, the founder of The Suppers Programs, and the producer of her own end-of-life educational program she dubbed “Dying Dor’s Way: Radically real spiels on the end of life.”
In 2001 as a result of concerns generated by 9/11, she proposed a peace-oriented community service project in the form of an organic instructional garden at the Riverside Elementary School in Princeton, where her three children had attended school. The Princeton School Gardens Cooperative grew out of that initiative. Its mission continues under the leadership of another founder, Karla Cook. With the help of Susan Conlon and other staff at the Princeton Public Library, Dorothy organized conferences for school teachers and parents to promote garden-based education throughout New Jersey.
From her “mother garden” at the corner of Patton Avenue and Wilton Street, Dorothy, who became a certified master gardener, provided plantings to dozens of school and private gardens throughout the community. She was determined to inspire Princeton to devote its lawns to the joys of cultivating and eating home-grown produce. Patton Avenue passersby found scissors and signs inviting them to sample her produce; she lined her sidewalks with pots of herbs and divided perennials bearing notes urging readers to take the
Every year she made the initial spring planting of the raised bed outside the Whole Earth Center, a local business with values so closely aligned with her own that she purchased two homes based on proximity to the store.
In 2005, Dorothy began running lunch and dinner meetings at home, determined to build a community of people whose health problems were related to the dangers of processed food. At the same time, she obtained a master’s degree in counseling from the College of New Jersey, and through that work developed the program design that became The Suppers Programs. Suppers is a non-profit organization that holds hundreds of meetings annually in central New Jersey, serving peer-led support groups in private homes for people whose physical and mental health problems are caused or exacerbated by processed food and lack of health-focused social connections. Dorothy called Suppers a “hyper-local solution to a global problem.”
Suppers groups teach home-grown food cultivation, healthy food shopping, and preparation of non-processed foods. The Suppers groups support participants — who often dislike vegetables and feel addicted to baked goods and sweets — as they develop a palate for non-processed food. The Suppers educational component features the non-judgmental sharing of personal stories of hope and healing, and constant reminders to experiment based on personal needs and preferences because — in the words of a key Suppers’ principle — “how you feel is data!”
Dorothy credited her interest in safe and wholesome food to the complications related to mercury exposure she suffered as a child following leaching of her dental amalgams and her genetic inability to remove the mercury from her body. She founded Suppers on the proposition that individuals can take charge of their own health decisions by lifestyle changes to prevent illness, thereby reducing reliance on the traditional medical establishment’s focus on post-diagnostic care.
When Dorothy was suddenly diagnosed with non-smoking-related lung cancer in April of 2019, she saw her work not as a failure to prevent the disease, but as a success — because her work had allowed her 35 years of unmedicated living. She immediately went into hospice care at home.
In her final year, Dorothy entered the medical system she had so assiduously avoided. She co-hosted a town hall meeting on dying at the Princeton Public Library in August of 2019, and produced more than 60 videos found at YouTube videos, “Dying Dor’s Way,” regarding end-of-life care, relationships, and decision-making.
She expressed deep gratitude for the compassion and skill of everyone she encountered in local health care institutions, including: Vincent Leonti, MD, and staff of Princeton Integrative Health; Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice; Princeton Medical Center; Regional Cancer Care Associates of Central New Jersey; Princeton Radiology; Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, New Brunswick; and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.
People may honor her memory by making a tax-deductible contribution to The Suppers Programs, by dining on locally-grown foods as found at Terra Momo restaurants or the Whole Earth Center, and by purposely making decisions every day to obtain food from local farmers and prepare it at home with friends and family. They also may support school gardens by making a tax-deductible gift to the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative, which will divide 100% of the donation among the Princeton Public School’s five school gardens.
Dorothy was born May 22, 1955 to Marge Fricke Smith and Irwin Smith and grew up in Wyckoff, New Jersey. She is survived by her brother, Stuart Smith, of Chelmsford, Massachusetts; sister, Merilyn Sandberg, of Wallingford, Connecticut; son, James, of Princeton; son, Max, of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and his wife, Emily, and their son, Daniel; daughter, Viveka Claire, of Boston; her life-long friend and end-of-life care provider, Violet Tomlinson; and her long-time companion, Roger Martindell.
Her family plans a memorial service later this year at the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville.