School 14

Florence Rita Sullivan

October 3, 1962 ~ June 1, 2022 (age 59)


Florence Rita Sullivan was born in Northern California in 1962 into a large tightly-knit family who loved nature and made music together. She died at home in Easthampton, on June 1, 2022 with her three children, sister, niece, grandchild, and wife by her side. Clean and sober for almost her entire adult lifetime, Florence was committed to radical honesty and unconditional love. As a professor of learning sciences at U-Mass, Amherst, Florence was funded by the National Science Foundation to develop and study K-12 computational science/thinking and worked collaboratively with teachers in Holyoke and Springfield to integrate robotics and computer science into the curriculum. Her book, Creativity, Technology, and Learning: Theory for Classroom Practice grew out of her research and service in local schools. Florence also delighted in her students’ learning and was deeply invested as a doctoral mentor.


Florence attended undergrad at the University of California at Santa Cruz, then New College, and graduated some years later from San Francisco State University; across those institutions she was deeply inspired by professors including Bettina Aptheker, Angela Davis, and Cherríe Moraga. She lived in the Bay Area for 18 years where she devoted her creative energies to writing and performing music, which eventually lead her to sound production and then digital learning. Florence left California in 1999 to pursue a doctorate in cognitive psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where in addition to obtaining a PhD and being active in the Iraq antiwar efforts, she met Celia Oyler, whom she married in 2007 in Northampton, MA.


She reluctantly leaves: her wife, Celia, and their three children Kyana Otero, Elly Perez, and Naizejha Perez; her new grandson Enzo Fogg; her siblings Elizabeth, Trudi, James, Anne, Daniel, and Kathleen Sullivan; her dear friend and brother-in-law Lance Bergman; adored nieces Sara Nuño-Villa, Guadalupe Nuño-Nunez; Anne Elizabeth Bergman, Marisol Nuño, Seinin Opacic, Julie Bergman, Nicole Sullivan; and her chosen family Aimee and Nepemba Katembo. Also left to mourn her untimely departure is her devoted mother-in-law M. Irene Oyler and many dear friends, students and colleagues. She was predeceased by her mother and father Sara J. & Richard B. Sullivan and her brother John Richard Sullivan.


Florence loved everything about life: becoming hot and sweaty in a tennis match; being the first one out on the dance floor; engaging in ongoing struggles for racial and economic justice. She was a self-proclaimed reluctant racist who made smashing white supremacy a real part of her daily life. Most of all she loved to play: tickle monster when the children were younger; riding the waves every summer at the Cape; making music with friends and family every chance she got--including at the annual American Research Association Conference in an academic rock band, as well as during the last weeks of her life.


Bemoaning Florence’s untimely departure, her dean and department chair noted that, “Right up until the end, she was emailing both of us to take care of her students and to advocate for how we as a college can deepen our work to address racism and support justice. Florence’s passion for justice and equity in her work with students, her recent tenure as Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies department chair, and her research was unshakable. She truly walked her talk concerning racism and inequality. She made “good trouble” in the words of civil rights icon John Lewis.”


A green burial and memorial sharing circle will be held on June 9, 2022. Please email for details.


In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to UMass Amherst for the Florence R. Sullivan Memorial Scholarship.  To make a donation, please go to .  Checks, made payable to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, can be mailed to: Records and Gift Processing, Memorial Hall, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 134 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003.  Please write the “Florence R. Sullivan Memorial Scholarship” on the memo line of the check.


The family wants to publicly acknowledge the superb, compassionate, and expert care Florence received from the medical personnel at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in the last few months of her too short life.

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