Dr. Lenore Fleming’s career evolved into a series of life-changing twists and turns that began with her teaching math and science in the 1960s to students in Harlem – a Manhattan neighborhood predominantly populated by African-Americans – and ended with her teaching homeless and poverty-stricken individuals in Portland how to write.
In the years between Harlem and Portland, Dr. Fleming went to medical school and became board-certified in gastroenterology and internal medicine. But she shifted gears before her medical career could take off, opting to take a research position for pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche.
Dr. Fleming passed away Tuesday at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough after a long battle with cancer. The Portland resident was 73.
Her eldest daughter, Lisa Cashman of Sea Cliff, N.Y., said her mother, who was raised in the Bronx, graduated from high school at the age of 16.
“My mother was a genius,” Cashman said.
Dr. Fleming taught for several years in Harlem, a cultural learning experience that she never forgot. She had started to write a book about that time in her life, her daughter said.
Dr. Fleming got married and moved to Ohio, where she enrolled in medical school at Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, her daughter said.
However, she was divorced during her sophomore year, leaving her to raise Lisa, who was 6, along with a younger daughter and son.
Cashman said her mother, instead of pursuing a career in medicine, chose to go to work for Hoffman-La Roche in New Jersey.
Dr. Fleming moved to Maine about 15 years ago to be close to her friends.
“My mother fell in love with Maine,” her daughter said. “She really liked how the sky looked and the sunsets. She would always make remarks about that.”
During her time in Maine, she taught at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine, serving for several years on its board of directors.
She gave popular monthly talks on health care to residents of The Cedars retirement community in Portland.
She also earned a master’s degree in nonfiction writing from USM’s Stonecoast program.
“She was very proud of that, getting another degree,” her daughter said. “I don’t know if she wanted to become a writer, as much as she enjoyed writing.”
Dr. Fleming used that background to teach writing to homeless individuals at the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland.
In the latter years of her life, she became fascinated with the connection between mind and body and how that connection could affect a person’s health, her daughter said.
“My mother was the smartest, most interesting person I have ever met,” Cashman said.
A celebration of her life will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 29 at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth off Route 1. The center is a 65-acre sanctuary overlooking the Presumpscot River.
Cashman said her mother liked to visit the sanctuary and enjoyed its natural beauty.
“My mother always said to us that whatever we decide to do, do it to celebrate the living. We felt this would be a good place to do that,” Cashman said.
In addition to Cashman, Mrs. Fleming is survived by another daughter, Rachel Flehinger of Portland, and a son, Michael Flehinger of Scarborough.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: