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Reporter obituary: Dorothy Seiberling

COURTESY PHOTO Dorothy Seiberling

Dorothy Seiberling, a longtime resident of Shelter Island, died on Nov. 23 in Wilmington, Del. She was 97.

Ms. Seiberling was president of the Shelter Island Friends of Music for 22 years and was on the board of the Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve. She would often take visitors on various biking excursions around the Island, for a swim in the bay, to check on the pipers at Hay Beach or to admire other neighbors’ gardens.

Her love of nature was instilled as a child as she and her siblings played among the famed gardens of Stan Hywet Hall, the Seiberling family home in Akron, Ohio. The historic country estate, now a museum, was built by her grandfather, F.A. Seiberling, founder of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., and his wife, Gertrude, also an avid gardener.

Before retiring to the south peninsula of Shelter Island in 1981, Ms. Seiberling was an influential magazine editor. As art editor of Life, she gave 20th century artists such as Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keefe and Robert Rauschenberg a platform for wider consideration. She interviewed Pollock for the piece, “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?”

Born Dorothy Buckler Lethbridge Seiberling to J. Frederick and Henrietta Buckler Seiberling on March 7, 1922, she was the youngest of three children. A talented painter, dancer, pianist, and skater, she attended Vassar College, like her sister Mary and her mother Henrietta, who was the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Her sister, Mary S. Huhn, died in 2018. Her brother, former Ohio congressman John F. Seiberling, died in 2008.

After graduating from Vassar in 1943, Ms. Seiberling moved to New York City to join Time-Life Magazines as a researcher. She worked her way up to senior arts editor at Life in 1965.

“Her career at Life was a stellar example of what a determined woman could do at a time when women were not treated equally,” said Grace Seiberling, her cousin and art professor at the University of Rochester. “Life provided more opportunities, but kept shifting her from department to department, before she finally was able to work in the art department where she became its head.”

At Life, she helmed special-year-end issues on the Bible (1964), Picasso (1968), and Christmas (1972).

When Life folded in 1972, Ms. Seiberling joined former colleague Clay Felker at his newly formed New York magazine as executive editor. In the mid-70s, she left New York to be deputy editor of the New York Times Magazine.

Throughout her career, Ms. Seiberling worked with some of journalism’s luminaries, including Life’s Henry Luce and the Times’ Abe Rosenthal.

In 1962, Ms. Seiberling married renowned art historian Leo Steinberg. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1969. Eight years later, she reconnected with Sidney Stiber, an old admirer who had heard she had divorced. The couple was married in 1987. Mr. Stiber died in 2013.

Ms. Seiberling had no children, but was close to her nieces and nephews. They — and many of their friends — all knew her as Aunt Babe. Generous and social, she hosted many festive Thanksgivings for her brother’s and sister’s families in Manhattan, as well as beach vacations at her previous home in Westhampton Beach. She and Mr. Stiber arranged art-inspired trips to Italy and England for friends, colleagues and members of her extended family.

“She was one of the most remarkable people I have ever known. She had many, many outstanding traits,” said close friend and fellow Shelter Island resident Jerry Glassberg. “These wonderful traits are often present in individuals, but to have them all in one person is truly incredible,” added Mr. Glassberg, who authored a book about Ms. Seiberling’s family. “Even with the advent of her dementia, we could still have long, meaningful and pleasant conversations.”

Dorothy Seiberling was also an avid art collector. From fine to folk, she collected without any other pretense than the love of all art and a desire to support artists she admired. Recently, she donated dozens of pieces from her personal collection — including works by Picasso, Fairfield Porter, Patrick Henry Bruce, Rauschenberg, Christo and Claes Oldenburg — to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College.

“Her interests were far-ranging, and her language always elegant and keen — every conversation was interesting and somehow instructive,” said Jim Jordan, who met her through being members of the Mashomack board. “She was a force for art, music and nature — for life in all its beauty.”

Shelter Island Friends of Music (SIFM) will acknowledge her passing and contributions at a concert in May. “We are so fortunate that Dorothy devoted 22 years of demanding artistic integrity to the Friends of Music,” said Forrest Compton, president of SIFM. “The success we have today is a direct result of her inspiring leadership.”

Ms. Seiberling is survived by one niece and six nephews — Curtis Huhn, George Huhn, Mary Maddox Huhn, William Huhn, John B. Seiberling, David Seiberling and Stephen Seiberling.

A celebration of her life will be held in Brooklyn early next year. In lieu of flowers, donations to the B+ Foundation or the Alzheimer’s Association are suggested.

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