Legacy Obituary

Mary Frances Dunham is a world traveler, a prolific letter-writer, a seasoned cycling advocate, and the proud rider of a Dahon “folder.” She’s a mother, a grandmother, an ethnomusicologist, and coauthor of the first English guidebook to Dhaka. …

To see the full article click here.

Celebrating A Cycling Trailblazer

Mary Frances Dunham was an urban cycling pioneer and forceful presence in the New York City bike advocacy community. In light of her recent passing, Ms. Dunham’s family has requested that donations be made in her honor to Bike New York. …

To see the full article click here.

Honoring Original TA Activist Mary Frances Dunham

Mary Frances Dunham is a world traveler, a prolific letter-writer, a seasoned cycling advocate, and the proud rider of a Dahon “folder.” She’s a mother, a grandmother, an ethnomusicologist, and coauthor of the first English guidebook to Dhaka. …

To see the full article click here.

A program of Asia Initiatives in Yavatmal village India​

In honor of Mary Frances Dunham , Asia Initiatives has established Bicycle Banks in her name in 2 villages in rural Yavatmal District in India. Her enthusiasm for bicycles and her memory is empowering women in these villages to access for more education and livelihood opportunities. Asia Initiatives is committed to carrying Mary’s dream forward by creating more such Bicycle Banks!

… Mary Frances Dunham advocated for bicycles wherever she went. She travelled all over the world and took her bicycle with her. Through this video we hope that her journey will inspire many women to use bicycles and become empowered!

To see the online tributes click on  video,  Facebook and Istagram.

The Daily Star: Tribute to a true admirer of Bangladesh

… In many ways, MFD was a force of nature. She was committed to a humanist view of the world, empathy for the downtrodden, and belief in the sustainability of a carbon-neutral world (she was an impassioned advocate of the bicycle as a carbon-free mode of transportation). …

To see the full article click here.

Mary Frances Dunham: In Memoriam

Mary Frances Dunham (b. 1932) died on October 11, 2021 in New York. Her demise at 89, though hardly before her time, has come to me as an extra shock. It is only about two weeks since Katherine Dunham, her good daughter, so gracefully found a way to have some boxes of the Ahmed Sofa papers in Mary Frances’s custody, including her correspondence ever since 1996 with our great writer, delivered to the library of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh in Dhaka. …

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Mary Frances Dunham died yesterday. I heard the news from Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman last night. I cannot explain it but my mind suddenly stop still since I heard the news.

Mary Frances Dunham was American. The Mary Frances and Daniel Dunham couple had been in Bangladesh for many years since 1968. They have done a lot in support of the liberation war. She has done so much with the art, literature, music, history and tradition of Bangladesh that it is unimaginable. … 

To see this article with English translation click here.

Bangladesh has lost one of its best friends. Mary Frances Dunham, who was born in 1932, in a French village,1* on the very day of Bangladesh’s Independence Day, died in her second homeland New York, the day before yesterday. She spent seven long years, from 1960 to 1967, in Dhaka of pre-independence Bangladesh, with her partner, architect Daniel Dunham. Daniel was engaged in initiating and teaching in the Department of Architecture at the then University of Engineering. He was also working as one of the architects of the Kamalapur railway station under construction. …

To see this article with English translation click here.


This is a tale of another time; a time when familiar characters appear different in the light of those days. Some of the characters are probably not quite known to all, but those of our countrymen who have been introduced by an American scholar, already over 70, it had been done with a lot of tender loving care. This scholar, who divided her time between China and New York, is none other than Mary Frances Dunham. This is in fact an interview, though the subject of this interview, this shy, modest, polite and gentle lady, has mainly talked about others. That an autobiography is, in reality, the influence of others upon oneself, and an interaction with people, can be learnt from this interview with Mary. …

To see the full article in Bangla click here

To see the full article in English click here: Part-1 and Part-2

13 thoughts on “Tributes”

  1. Rustom Bharucha

    I feel a deep sense of loss that my dear friend Mary-Frances Dunham is no more with us. Even though there was a difference in our age, I always looked upon her as a contemporary. She was someone I could talk to freely about many things that concerned me, notably my writing projects, lectures/seminars, and theatre work. Her home in New York became a ‘second home’ for me. Even as I write these lines I can sense her presence in the kitchen where we would meet for tea. What I liked about Mary-Frances was her totally unpretentious, down-to-earth personality, and, above all, her deep sense of generosity. She was always ready to support and listen. Even through the last years of her illness, she never lost her spirit and her wonderful smile, which could light up the room. She had an impish sense of humour and a curiosity about many cultural matters. The emotional impact of spending years in Bangladesh and India was something palpable and it could be felt in the intensity with which she pursued her research on jarigan and other matters relating to translation and music. I will miss her a lot but I also know that she will always be with me because she has been deeply internalized. May she bless us wherever she is.

  2. Lucy Bell Jarka-Sellers

    I met Mary Frances’s daughter Kate on the first night of freshman orientation at Harvard. For me it was best-friendship at first sight! Soon I was a regular visitor at the Dunhams’ apartment in New York. This was a heaven of art, music, bicycles, bare feet, cosiness, lack of pretense, funny stories, whimsy, resourcefulness, tolerance.

    Kate’s mother Mary Frances was very generous with young people. She shared their interests: she talked music with the musical, Classics with the Classicists, languages with the language enthusiasts, education with the teachers, whimsy with the whimsical. She was good at so many things! If you knew her, you can imagine her modesty and encouraging smile. I like to imagine her sitting in the grass by the Charles River and talking to my musical boyfriend about music. They were both so absorbed and the scene was so pleasant, with the green grass and the sparkling blue water. We were so lucky to have Mary Frances to talk to and so lucky to have her as an example of a certain way of being a grownup.

    People like Dan and Mary Frances Dunham and their daughter Kate and her husband Steve and their two sons make a person think “What a Wonderful World!” even when things are hard, as they are when you lose a beloved and admired friend.

  3. “Superhero” best describes Mary Frances Dunham. My family (her adoptive family from Bangladesh) and I know her as “Yaya” as she not only became my second mother, but also a grandmother to my children as well. My fondest memory of her was when I first met her, summer of 1973 when I landed in New York. She and her husband picked us from the airport and I did not know how to say greet them, so I just a smiled and she gave me a wonderful look and smiled right back. All the way through the car ride she would look back of the car and just kept smiling at me. Little did I know that she would be an important, integral part of my life from that day on.
    I adored her and I will miss her very much. Thank you for all your love and support. Forever your “second” daughter.

  4. Alison and John Schiff

    Dear Kate,…….We were so sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. She was a wonderful generous person who was blessed with an extraordinary life. We all learned from her by example how to stay engaged, be productive and live life to its fullest. We too will seek out that bench and sit and remember our friendship. Love, Alison and John

  5. Rebecca and Liu Jian

    I’m not sure how I first met Yaya and the Dunham family, but once I met them, I always looked forward to visits to their cozy home in Shanghai, full of music and stories and books and good food. I loved sitting and sharing experiences with Yaya and hearing about her time in Bangladesh. I share her love of bikes and admired her hardcore advocacy for bike transit. I remember joining her on a bike advocacy ride in Shanghai, while she rode in the Lambourgini. Long after she left Shanghai I still think of her while biking along with my kids in tow. Just recently I took them for a three hour bike ride on bike paths along the Huangpu River and thought to myself, I bet Yaya would enjoy this. I will keep thinking of her when I get on my bike.
    I look forward to visiting her bench with the family next time we’re in NYC.
    My sincere condolences to Kate, Steve, Nick and Xano. Yaya will be very missed.

  6. Christopher Hill

    I first met Mary Frances in Dacca when I was nine. She quickly became my mother’s closest friend, and stayed as such until my mother’s death in 1986. When I was in boarding school in Rhode Island I stayed with the Dunhams during holidays. When ny mother, Patricia Hill, died, MF immediately came to Salt Lake City and was indispensable during the mourning period. I mention the personal interactions only to underline her kindness and generosity. She and my mother (along with Dorothy Angell) wrote ‘Living in Dacca,” and they spent years translating Bangla folk tales for UNESCO. I can’t begin to explain how important she was to my life. Others have written eloquently about her legacy, but for me, in Dacca, she was a second mother. I shall miss her terribly, but I am so grateful for the love and wisdom she bestowed upon me. She will be in my heart forever.

  7. Danishlal Duria

    “Dhanish don’t swim out too far”, I recall Mrs. Dunham shouting out at our first family excursion at Jones Beach. With time, she became more than her last name. Ultimately, she had become my second “mom”.

    It was my first year at Wagner Junior High. A little scrawny boy, like a drunken sailor, managed to carry this gigantic tuba home. Somehow, I unwittingly was selected to the instrument. Dare I say, it probably was taller and weighed more than me. She looked at me and the instrument with such wide eyes. After her initial shock, she smiled and took it as a challenge to teach me to play the tuba. We spent countless hours learning the notes and while she played the scales on her piano, I could hear the tick tock of the metronome in the background. Through her tutelage, by the second year at Wagner, I became good enough to join the Boro-Wide Band in NYC. Her proudest moment of me was when I played at Carnegie Hall. Like a Cheshire cat, she smiled and gleamed with pride. I rarely seen tears come out of her eyes, that day, her eyes were quite watery.

    “Mom, you have swum out too far”. Though I can’t see you in the horizon, lovingly the thought of you will always be in my heart. Thank you for being such an influential and bright star. I miss you and love you very much.

  8. David Bornstein

    Dear Kate, Steve, Niki and Xano,
    Yaya was an inspiring person. I remember the early days of getting to know her and your family. The first impression was of course her on her bike coming to the playground with the milk crate tethered and xano crammed inside. It reminded me of my times in Bangladesh, with the brilliant transport improvisations on bikes and motorized scooters everywhere you look. But it wasn’t just the creativity and spiritedness that most captivated me about Yaya, and not even her loving quiet presence as a mother or grandmother — it was the fact that she was in every way her own person, a thinker and doer who stayed true to her idea of how to live, how to accompany, how to walk through life with integrity to your own path, with ease and humility. She seemed marvelously indifferent to what the world wanted or expected. She seemed always able to draw great pleasure from her own interests and projects, which seemed ever flowing. She conveyed a sense of abundance in living in a culture and world that is so intent on making us all feel a sense of scarcity — needing more this or that. For me, Yaya conveyed the idea, and the deep feeling of peace that comes with it, that one can find fulfillment by living with simple integrity, enjoying the gift of the body in motion, and sharing stories with friends. I will miss her big heart and steadfast cheer and curiosity. I send you all love. I can only imagine how much you are missing her. I feel grateful to have known her.

  9. This is a message from Bernadette Fassu, one of MFD’s dear care givers:
    What a lovely lady! It is a privilege to me to have you on my journey. You are so caring. In all my years working in home health care you are the most humble women I have ever met. It is never too late to meet a special person who can change your life. The short time we have known each other is still enough for me to express how much I am blessed. “Yaya,” as we all call you, I am proud to tell my children what I have learned from you. You are an example for me and my family all over the world. You taught me how to pronounce words in English and used French to explain their meanings. I am very grateful. You showed me how travel has influenced your life. You are a “social butterfly” and that is one of the qualities that makes you special. May God continue to bless you. 
    Love you,
    Bernadette Fassu

  10. Jessie Nelson

    Dear Kate, Steve, Xano and Nick,
    I´m so sorry for the loss of the incredibly kind, gentle and brilliant powerhouse, our Yaya. She was an inspiring force and impossible to forget. I was honored to know her and love her with you!
    Big hugs,
    Jessie (Nelson)
    October 19, 2021

  11. This is a note from GAIL MINAULT:
    Dear Kate and family. I am so sorry to hear of Mary Frances’ passing. I last saw her in Shanghai, when I visited there with a choral group. She was already suffering from Parkinsons, but we had a lovely evening of reminiscences. I first met Mary Frances and Dan when I arrived in Dacca/Dhaka, then East Pakistan, as a very junior Foreign Service officer in 1963. I found out that there was this extraordinary couple in town, he was an architect, and she had brought her harpsichord along and had organized a weekly Baroque music group, including my colleague, the press officer, on flute, and a couple from the Cholera Research Lab, on recorders. Would I be interested in providing the continuo, since I played the cello? Well, yes of course, except that I hadn’t brought my cello with me! But I met with the group at Dan and Mary Frances’ house, and decided that I just had to figure out a way to join in. So I flew to Calcutta, rented a cello from a music shop, neglected to tell them that I was taking it to Pakistan, and brought it back to Dacca in the seat next to me on the plane. For the next year or so, we met every week and played Telemann, Bach, and other Baroque worthies, with our impromptu combo. I returned the cello to Calcutta before I left Dhaka in August of 1964. I eventually left the Foreign Service and went to grad school in South Asian Studies at Penn, and when I was back in India doing PhD research, my husband (who was working for CARE) and I visited Dan and Mary Frances in Calcutta. Our friendship endured over the years, as we stayed in touch with Christmas cards, but alas, not many visits. The lore of our joint experiences in Dhaka endured as an undying bond. I recently had a sense that I had not heard from Mary Frances for some time, and I wondered how she was. I know she is now at peace and I miss her inspiring presence. She was an extraordinary person, with a quiet manner and a will of steel. With fond wishes,
    Gail Minault

  12. Dear Kate,

    Thank you for sending the announcement of Mary Frances’s passing. I was pleased to hear she was at peace in her home surrounded by her loving family and caregivers.

    Your mother, Mary Frances Dunham, along with your dad, Dan Dunham, were two of the most interesting people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know. Those memorable days in Dacca – every one an experience, good, bad or unique – were weathered through on the Dunham front lawn with delightful, enlightening and uplifting conversation.

    Mary Frances’s contributions as a scholar, linguist, author and translator helped so many of us foreigners, friends and government officials understand Bengali culture: the local people, their language, their customs as well as the goodness of all people everywhere.

    Via a web-site you sent I want to share Mary Frances’s love of the world and its continuance as well as a lasting memory of her through the planting of trees which grow, live and propagate again and again. Farewell dear friend and lady, you live forever.

    Yours sincerely,
    Roy Vollmer

  13. Zhengyang Echo Yue

    Dear Yaya, I miss you a lot after I travel back to China, and I still miss you today. My New York days would not be the same without your generosity, kindness and all your smiles. You and your family gave me a home away from home. I always wish I spent more time with you while I was there and had known your personal stories even more. I still regret that today. I would treasure every bit of our interaction and time spent together: delicious meals together, board games we played, family concerts, thanksgiving dinners…You will always be remembered. Dear Kate, Steve, Nick and Yaya, I am sorry for your loss.

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