Marita M. Railsback attempted to save Henry A. Rattenbury from drowning, Cohasset, Massachusetts, March 2, 1964. A motorist stopped at the home of Mrs. Railsback, 39, housewife, near Little Harbor, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, and reported that a man in the water was calling for help. After telephoning police, Mrs. Railsback ran to the bank and saw Rattenbury, 52, carpenter, flailing wildly and submerging intermittently as he drifted in the harbor, where the water was as much as 18 feet deep. Although somewhat fatigued, Mrs. Railsback removed her shoes and entered the near-freezing water. She swam 30 feet to a small floating tree and then pushed it ahead of her as she continued 40 feet farther to Rattenbury. She grasped the arm of Rattenbury, who barely was conscious, just as he began to sink. Mrs. Railsback held him to the tree and, already feeling effects of the cold water, allowed the current to carry them diagonally through the deepest area toward the opposite bank. When Rattenbury slipped from her grasp, Mrs. Railsback quickly regained her hold. She asked for someone to assist her, but none of the persons on the banks went to her aid. Mrs. Railsback had difficulty supporting Rattenbury, and her legs and hands became numb. While she was changing her hold, Rattenbury sank. She drew him back to the surface but was so tired that she barely could keep his head above water while clinging to the tree. After drifting 400 feet, Mrs. Railsback obtained footing near the bank while supporting Rattenbury, who by then was unconscious. Two men aided them from the water. Rattenbury could not be revived.
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On March 2, 1964, Marita M. Railsback, a 39-year-old housewife, plunged fearlessly into the frigid March waters of Little Harbor, trying to save a man from drowning near her Cohasset, Mass., home. Railsback called for help from onlookers, but no one came to her aid. She struggled to keep the unconscious man afloat and pulled him 40 yards to the shore. Though the man didn’t survive, Railsback was awarded a Carnegie Medal for heroism, an honor the modest woman rarely mentioned.
Marita “Mitzi” (Ott) Railsback, a longtime Cohasset resident and volunteer, died on Aug. 14, 2006, of complications from spinal meningitis at her daughter’s home in Marshfield, Mass. She was 81.
Born in Boston, Railsback grew up in West Newton, Mass., and attended Beaver County Day School and Finch Junior College in New York. At age 19, she married Walter (Bud) Railsback.
Railsback combined her love of nature and animals with her volunteer work at the Cohasset Garden Club and, closer to home, her careful upkeep of flowers in the historic granite watering trough at the intersection of Beach Street and Atlantic Avenue, where she planted, weeded, and watered for more than 20 years.
She was also a longtime volunteer and supporter of Cohasset Elder Affairs, where, well into her 70s, she drove a van offering transportation to local seniors, some younger than she, in need of rides to their doctors’ appointments and other errands.
Railsback was also a trustee of New England Hospital, where she contributed to patient care and hospital governance.
(Edited from the Boston Globe, Aug. 17, 2006.)