Markoff, Florence

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Markoff, Florence

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Dates of existence

8/24/1917-7/18/2017

History

Florence Helford Shapiro was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts on August 24, 1917 to Molly and David Shapiro, who was a salesman from Poland. She spent much of her childhood in Providence, Rhode Island, where she got her start in radio giving the morning announcements at Hope High School. She was admitted to Emerson College in September of 1935 where she majored in reading performance. While studying there she took courses that would help her throughout her career, including Public Speaking, Expressive Voice, Story Telling, and Phonetics just to name a few. Florence taught elocution lessons and drama lessons during her time at Emerson, and continued to teach through the 1940s and into the early 1950s. During the summer of 1939, Florence married Henry Markoff an architectural engineer, and together they had three sons.
In the early 1950s, Florence began her career in broadcasting when she worked in local Providence television. From there, she began working in the field that she would call home: radio. Her first radio show, called Rhode Island Portraits in Sound, premiered in the mid-1970s. She quickly became well-known for her dramatic, detailed accounts of the lives of famous—and sometimes little-known—Rhode Island figures. She would adopt different accents and speech patterns to transform herself into everyone from governors to rabbis, from socialites to nurses, and anyone in between. This earned her the moniker of “The lady on the radio,” a title that would follow her for decades.
Following the success of her first program, Florence started her second radio series in the late 1970s—one she would continue to host until she was well into her nineties. “There’s a Word for It” featured 60 seconds of the etymology of some of our most commonly used words and phrases. Markoff’s radio scripts were turned into audiobooks that were sold all across the country. Libraries and schools from Rhode Island to Texas made use of her audiobooks as teaching tools.
Florence launched “You Said a Mouthful,” which was a spin-off program focusing on the origins of food words and phrases. Florence worked with former White House chef Wendy Sorg, who worked during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, to transform the program into a book – a process that would take twenty-five years. You Said a Mouthful, which was published in 2015, used stories of the origins of food words to both tell stories of etymology and provide cooking recipes.
Florence’s Jewish identity played an important role throughout her entire life, both personally and professionally. She and her family joined Temple Emanuel-El in Providence when the congregation was established in 1929, and she remained a member there for the rest of her life. In her career, she made sure to tell the stories of notable Jewish people with an offshoot of her Portraits in Sound series called Jewish Portraits in Sound. She also made speeches and conducted interviews with Jewish organizations in Rhode Island. The love of theater that Florence developed while at Emerson continued throughout her life. She directed local plays in Rhode Island, including productions of the Odd Couple and Death of a Salesman. She passed away on July 18, 2017, just weeks before her one-hundredth birthday.

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