GREENSBORO After building a career around teaching movement, Marsha Paludan spent nearly the last decade of her life struggling to move.
Since late 2008, strokes had left Paludan in a nursing home, partially paralyzed, partially blind and unable to teach her UNC-Greensboro theater students.
Yet during those years, despite increasing pain, she didn’t express resentment.
“I would say, ‘You are amazing,’ ” said Jim Ritchey, her husband of 20 years. “‘I see a lot of people so angry about being here.’ She would look with real surprise and say, ‘What’s the point of that?’ ”
But gradually, Paludan’s condition deteriorated. On July 8, she died at age 76 at WhiteStone retirement community.
“She outlived every prognosis,” Ritchey said. “She lived longer with pulmonary hypertension than every doctor I talked to ever heard of. One specialist said ‘Marsha has five years tops,’ and she lived nine. She basically ignored them.”
On Sept. 29, UNCG’s School of Theatre will hold a memorial celebration.
It also will honor retired theater professor Alan Cook, who died in August, and Marian Smith, an alumna who died in December.
Cook led the master’s degree program in directing and directed more than 100 plays at UNCG and around the country. Smith ran the Southeastern Theatre Conference from 1973 to 1999.
The 3 p.m. celebration will be held in Sprinkle Theatre in the Brown Building on Tate Street, two doors down from UNCG Auditorium.
Paludan taught at UNCG from 1991 to 2008, retiring at the end of the 2008-09 school year. She maintained an office in the Brown Building and performed frequently in Sprinkle Theatre.
John Gulley, who teaches acting and directing at UNCG, called Paludan “our Zen den mother in the department.”
“She was an amazing movement and acting teacher,” Gulley said. “Deeper than that was her love and support for her students.”
In 2010, the School of Theatre planted a Japanese black pine tree in front of UNCG Auditorium to honor Paludan. A plaque will be put there, Gulley said.
Paludan’s training began at an early age in Pasadena, Calif., where she started ballet lessons and watched her father produce shows at the renowned Pasadena Playhouse.
Her love of performance led to academic degrees in dance, choreography, theater and film.
At UNCG, she coordinated the movement curriculum for the actor training programs and directed plays.
Her approach integrated the Alexander Technique, Developmental Technique, yoga, tai chi, Viewpoints and Contact Improvisation.
Daughters Kari Paludan-Sorey and Kirsten Paludan remember her traveling as far as Japan and Australia to teach styles of movement.
She collaborated with others to develop a dance form called release technique, now taught worldwide.
She and longtime friend and colleague Robin Gilmore started a teacher training program in Greensboro on the Alexander Technique, which helps release tension and improve movement, balance and coordination.
That all changed in August 2007, when Paludan fell down a dozen steps.
A large hematoma on her left hip filled with 2 liters of blood. Her blood pressure dropped. She likely suffered a stroke, Ritchey said.
On Sept. 8, the day after her 67th birthday, she suffered a stroke at home, then another at the hospital.
She started to improve.
Then two more strokes hit. She ended up at WhiteStone retirement community.
Over the years, Paludan’s condition would deteriorate and then improve. She nearly died twice.
Paludan worked with a physical therapist there, relearning the simplest of motions — standing, walking — that she once took for granted.
“All my training has been leading me toward this training,” she said in a 2009 interview. “It takes absolute concentration, like I have never had to do before. I don’t think I have ever worked harder in my life.”
She mentioned a new performance piece she envisioned.
“I am never not dancing in my mind,” she said.
She worked with the physical therapist until two years ago. But the pain in her left hip increased and treatments became too painful, Ritchey said.
Paludan had studied Eastern spiritual disciplines, and the acceptance that she learned helped her cope.
Many of the people who came to visit described her as joyful, Ritchey said.
“Regular visitors would say, ‘I got more out of this than she got from me,’ ” Ritchey said. “If I ever had a tendency to feel sorry for myself, all I had to do was be with her. It made it easier to pull out of any self-pity and start to learn that sort of acceptance that she had.”
Ritchey, a musician, songwriter and sound engineer who is self-employed in computer services, visited daily. He fed his wife lunch and dinner.
And they shared their love for each other.
“I love you all there is,” they told each other 10 to 20 times a day.
Ritchey now copes with grief and loss.
“She was the center of my life for 10 years and I planned everything around her,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like my life anymore. ... I’m glad she’s not suffering, but I really miss her.”