Elizabeth Essex Pedersen, 80, died Thursday, July 25, after a valiant four-year battle with metastasized pancreatic cancer.
The youngest of three daughters of Dr. Hiram Eli Essex and Marion Murphy Essex, Elizabeth was born Feb. 3, 1939, in Rochester, Minnesota, where her father was the director of physiology at the Mayo Institute of Experimental Medicine and an avocational farmer who raised pure-bred Holstein Friesian cattle.
Elizabeth was perhaps best known on Shelter Island for her work with the Shelter Island Historical Society.
She and her husband, William Pedersen, bought their first Island home in 1976. It was the beginning of a 43-year love affair with and devotion to Island life, her family said. Encouraged by the approbation and the example of her parents, who had made a gift of their farm to the City of Rochester, Elizabeth was determined to do something similar for the Shelter Island community.
In 2011, she took on the role of president of the Historical Society. There she put to work her considerable skills at bringing people together in pursuit of a common goal. Through her constant support and encouragement, the organization came to realize it could expand its role as an important repository for the extraordinary collection of historical information that had been carefully protected and preserved by the volunteers who preceded her.
On their 50th anniversary, Elizabeth and Bill gave the gift of a professional evaluation of the Historical Society’s existing facilities. The study showed that much needed to be done if the archival materials so lovingly assembled over the previous decades were to survive. Elizabeth then recruited her husband, a renowned architect, to design the Society’s new form.
Both Elizabeth and Bill were determined that any renovations and additions would be born out of complete respect for the original Havens House, which was built in 1743. Today, coinciding with Elizabeth’s death, the completion of the new structure has been realized and the entire campus renamed The Shelter Island History Center. Its existence is a testament to her determination, her vision and her extraordinarily generous spirit. Elizabeth herself donated the preponderance of funds needed to cover the cost of its design and its construction. She has also left in her will a major gift dedicated to the Center’s participation in the education of the youth of Shelter Island. It is to be called the Elizabeth Pedersen Educational Fund.
In addition, Elizabeth took a leadership position in getting Sylvester Farm going. She used her skills to help recruit the core group; get the CSA on its feet; help with the Saturday morning distributions of produce; and promote the preservation and sustainable use of the property to the benefit of both CSA members and anyone who chooses to buy the organically grown vegetables, fruits, cheeses and condiments available at the farm stand.
The journey that carried Elizabeth from Minnesota to Shelter Island began in 1961. After taking her degree in Child Development from the University of Minnesota, she married architecture student William Pedersen. In 1962, when Bill’s graduate studies at MIT took them to Cambridge, Mass., Elizabeth worked in the Boston Children’s Hospital and the Boston City Hospital.
In addition to her professional activities, she played in amateur musical groups throughout the early years of her marriage, and actively participated in volunteer organizations, including Art of the Eye, Women in Need and Hope for Housing.
In 1967, after six years of travel, which included a year in residence at the American Academy in Rome, Elizabeth and Bill settled in Brooklyn. Their daughters Kia Andrea Pedersen and Lea Essex Pedersen, were born there in 1967 and 1970 respectively.
Music remained a mainstay of her life. Her mother, a pianist, fostered a love of music in all members of her family. Elizabeth mastered the flute and instilled a love of music in her daughters and created a family quartet that often played together. When the Perlman Music Program (PMP) came to Shelter Island, Elizabeth and Bill became devotees of each season’s concerts, recitals and master classes at PMP’s Island campus.
Elizabeth is survived by her beloved and loving husband of 58 years, William Pedersen; their daughters, a grandson Teph and son-in-law Jesse Huot; her sisters Dorothy Dixon of Portland, Ore., and Sally Kleaveland of Spokane, Wash.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Shelter Island History Center and/or the Elizabeth Pedersen Educational Fund.
A memorial gathering will be planned for the fall.