Myra Nissen, of New York City and Shelter Island Heights, died on Sept. 16, 2020, a few months shy of her 85th birthday. Myra and her husband, Tony (1938-2006), built a home at the top of Goat Hill in 1974, and were on the Island nearly every weekend and summer for more than 30 years.
Born on Dec. 4, 1935, to Jewish-Russian immigrants, Myra grew up in Yonkers and Hartsdale, N.Y. She briefly attended the University of Michigan but, die-hard city girl that she was, soon transferred to Columbia. An actress in her youth — her claims to fame were having done summer stock with Richard Burton and with Dustin Hoffman, the summer before he went off to film “The Graduate” — Myra didn’t pursue a stage career, though she never really left the theater or stopped performing.
She held varied jobs: Myra worked at the Ford Foundation; modeled shoes for Pappagallo; wrote for Principal magazine and the Practicing Law Institute; spent years in the travel and tourism industry writing newsletters for The American Society of Travel Agents and The Greater Independent Association of New York Travel Services; read aloud to clients at the Lighthouse for the Blind; led walking tours of Harlem; served as an official Big Apple Greeter; and taught English as a second language to newly arrived immigrants in New York.
She loved introducing people to the city, and to Shelter Island, where she hosted visitors constantly and was known to give over her home to guests — friends, strangers, relatives and acquaintances — whether she could be there with them or not; she wanted everyone to know the places she so dearly loved.
For over a decade, Myra was a central member of Quest, a lifelong learning community in Manhattan, where four days a week she taught and attended classes in this thriving group of peer-educating seniors. She was always working on a presentation on Guastavino architecture, or the paintings of Alice Neel, doing readings for her Great Plays course, or taking on a role in A.R. Gurney’s “Love Letters” for her enthusiastic Quest fans.
Myra usually went to the theater at least three nights a week — Off-Off-Off-Broadway, workshop group subscriptions, shows in pre-preview, you name it. She saw every movie the week it was released, was a regular at New York museums, played Mahjong, took entire courses on the novels of Henry James and George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, and was known for her fabulous cooking. She studied French all her life and traveled extensively — as often as she could to France, where she and Tony had many dear friends.
Myra’s survived by her only child, daughter Thisbe Nissen; her especially beloved son-in-law, Jay Baron Nicorvo; and her grandson, Sonne Niscorvosen, who already shares his Mymy’s feistiness and love of the theater.
When it’s once again safe to travel, her family will bring Myra’s ashes — and Tony’s, and those of Myra’s phenom of a one-eyed cat, Winken — to scatter over the lake at Annecy, France.