Dorothy Rosenberg: “The mother of source”

Dorothy Rosenberg and her eldest son, Werner.

One of my favorite poets, e.e. cummings, used to write his name purposely only using lower case letters. I always took this as a acknowledgment of the inauthenticity of having an ego. Whether this was his intention or not, I purposely call Dorothy Rosenberg, the “mother of source” using lower case letters for that very reason. To acknowledge the inauthenticity of ego. I had the priviledge of having dinner with Dorothy on two occasions in Laguna Beach, at the home of a mutual friend, Shirley Leitch. Shirley knew Dorothy, along with other important figures in California’s transformational renaissance of the late 60’s and the 1970’s. Dorothy and Shirley had both volunteered their time with an organization called Prison Possibilities, which took the est Training behind bars to the criminals in California’s penal system. Dorothy, was the mother of Werner Erhard, formerly Jack Rosenberg. As I was a very dedicated and committed volunteer for est, Shirley knew I would take great joy in meeting the mother of the man who founded est, and was the iconographic leader of this movement from 1971 to 1990. We used to call Werner the “source” of est. This made Dorothy, the “mother of source.” I was very excited to dine with her and a handful of others. I found Dorothy to be very, very down-to-earth, in fact salt-of-the-earth, no nonsense, and genuinely interested in others, and not at all interested in herself. The dinner discussion went from reminescing about the early days of Prison Possibilities with these “little-old-ladies” working with hardened criminals behind prison bars, to the joy of tending her rose gardens back home in northern California. I regarded Werner, her son, as a major influence on my life, and someone who had reinvented the possibility that human beings were and are from the 1970’s and on. The biggest contribution Dorothy made to me however had nothing to do with the work of transformation, or her son’s legacy. Her sheer joy of sharing the love and satisfaction she had for working in her garden, caught my ear, and captivated me. I had spend decades, resisting gardening, hating gardening, and avoiding gardening. My father, a landscape gardener from the 1940’s to the 1970’s had often taken me along his gardening route for countless summers. This was mandatory. It was my duty as his son. I would mow, and rake, cultivate and weed, all for a dollar a day. I hated it, and suffered from “hay fever” no doubt from my resistance to these chores. I also was put in charge of the maintenance of our backyard and sometimes the frontyard of our house. This was all drudgery for me in my youth. My father also set me up to do gardening for a woman down the street for pocket money.  Again I looked at gardening as indentured slavery.  I resisted it, and resented having to do it.  This relationship to gardening followed me into adulthood.  In the late 1990’s I finally had my own house, with my own yard, and I still hated anything related to the gardening.  I hired a gardener to do these chores for me.  I would pay someone else to do this drudgery.

After spending time with Dorothy and her shares about gardening and her love of bringing life and beauty into the world, and how this work in turn gave life and beauty to her life; I finally “got off it.” I started to try some gardening on my own. Planting rose bushes, annuals, bi-annuals, vegetable gardens, hanging plants, etc. I fell in love with gardening. Something which I never allowed myself to have before meeting Dorothy.  Gardening became a self-expression for me.  I believe, as Dorothy said she believed, that gardening was one of the secrets of her longevity. To enjoy a long life, you must spend each day creating life, is the lesson I was given by Dorothy.

Recently, I was told that Dorothy had passed away at the age of ninety-nine.  What a long and wonderful life she lived.  Whenever I am in the presence of a beautiful garden I will think of her.  Rest in peace, dear Dorothy. You are truly the “mother of source.”


10 thoughts on “Dorothy Rosenberg: “The mother of source”

  1. I oersonally met dorthy in the year that the forum was presented at the buena vista correctional facility, as i was an inmate there doing 50 years for a crime commited when i was young, it sadded me to find out today that she as passed away she was a mother to as all at the facility. but her encourging words stay with me even today, i was released 2 years ago and am now going to college at ccd. and continue to remember the wonderful people i met and lent me a hand to help turn my life around, i know that gods will look at you all and issue the blessings that you all deserve.

    • Dear Carlos,

      Congratulations on your new life. When I would meet with the late, Dorothy Rosenberg and our mutual friend, the late Shirley Leitch, they would speculate on the difference their work with “Prison Possibilities” had made and were still making. Your post is a testiment to the power and love of their actions in the 70’s and 80’s in bringing the transformation work of her son, Werner Erhard to the people behind bars. This work must continue as prison populations continue to grow. Your life is an acknowledgment of the work of both Dorothy and Shirley and all of the others that made the prison trainings a reality. God Bless you for making their work real, beyond their lifetime.

      Jim Tsutsui Jr.

      • Carlos,
        I was the Production Supervisor at your (2) Forums in Buena Vista. 🙂 Nice to hear from you. Dorothy was quite a presence for us as well in your Forum. She referred to you all as “My Boys” and was totally committed that you got what was available in the Landmark Forum. My favorite story about that experience is answering the phone in the Prison Possibilites office afterward only to hear the Warden say, “You guys need to get a staff member up here, I’ve got over 50 “free” people in my prison. Do you know how invalidating it is for my guards to guard FREE people. Carlos and some guys actually have brought me a business plan to make this institution financially self supporting!” Thanks for BEING FREE and getting FREE.
        I understand that the DOC has a new progressive director. Would you be willing to get involved with regenerating the Program at Buena Vista. You could be the
        new Eugene Featherstone! “( Bankrobber, Drug Dealer and Transformed Inmate) :-)” An effort is just getting underway. Let me know, please.

      • Terry thank you for your wonderful words. Sorry that it has taken me so long to respond back to you. As before life is good on this side of the prison walls. I continue to attend church and look for work, yet I never let anything bring me down. But continue to spread what P.P.I. has given to me with whom ever will listen. This is one of the only programs brought into the D.O.C. that I attended and had any sort of transformation. I only wish that p.p.I. was still in existence has I would enjoy helping others to achieve their own transformations while incarcerated.

  2. I found this conversation when searching to find if Prison Possibilities was still ongoing. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be but there are amazing conversations like this still going on as a testament to the power of this work and technology. Congratulations to the leaders and participants in this conversation. Amazing stuff here.

    • Hi Jeremy,

      No, nothing I am aware of at this time. It was people like Dorothy Rosenberg and my friend, the late Shirley Leitch who made that program available.
      Landmark Education (the employee-owned predecessor of Werner Erhard & Associates), is busy transforming the people imprisoned (by their minds) outside of the institutions.

      Thanks for posting.

      Jim Tsutsui

  3. I loved this piece, Jim. Let me relate my favorite Dorothy story, which I heard her tell. Part of est’s legendary “Six-Day Course” – which you and I both participated in, – was a 1-mile cross-country run, up and down steep hills, on 4 of the 6 days. The ground rule was: Run as fast as you can, and if you have to stop, stop, then start again as soon as you can.

    Well, Dorothy took the Six-Day (in her 70’s I believe), but after some minutes on the Run, she didn’t want to run anymore. So she sat down on a rock and watched other participants run by. But after a bit, she told us, “I realized, Wait! I’m Werner’s mother. I better run!” And she got up and finished the Run.

    Good to be in touch with you, Jim. Please give my love to your wife.
    FYI, Jeanine Solomon accepted my application into the Seminar Leader Program a couple of weeks ago, and I’m bound for an Orientation Weekend as soon as one is scheduled.

  4. Hi Eric! That is awesome that you are applying the Landmark Education Seminar Leaders Program. I look forward to seeing you at the January Training Week-end in Los Angeles. Jim

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