Shelter Island Reporter obituary: Elizabeth Dickerson Huttman

Elizabeth Dickerson Huttman, Ph.D., daughter of Albert and Lee Dickerson, passed away peacefully on July 30 at the age of 92. Beth, as she was known, is survived by her husband, John Huttman, her brother Jack Dickerson, as well as several loving nieces and nephews: Leslie and Glenn Cashel, John E. Dickerson, Lisa and AJ Dickerson, and her favorite nephew-in-law, James Quillian. 

Beth’s parents, of Montclair Colony, had a long local lineage tracing back to Nathan P. Dickerson, 1st Mate on the Flying Cloud clipper ship, who set a world record for the fastest clipper from New York to California. The record was never broken in the age of these sailings around Cape Horn. Beth’s mother Lee was a school teacher in Hampton Bays, and Albert a farmer, who created a cooperative with 10 other farmers in the 1950s, selling to companies such as Birdseye. Albert pursued construction later in life.  

As a child, Beth enjoyed sailing and academics, and dabbled a bit in the arts. Her brother, Jack (“Jackie”) also enjoyed sailing. They each attended Syracuse University to continue their academics, and both joined the sailing team. Beth went on to get her Masters degree at Cornell University. She taught at Howard University of B.C., Canada, and served as research faculty at California State University, Berkeley. She ultimately earned her Ph.D. after spending a few years in research at the London School of Economics. Through these years, she focused her sociology research on elderly housing in the U.S. and Europe. Beth authored and co-authored several books on this subject that served as textbooks for generations to come. She wrote how elderly housing was limited to “nursing homes.” The conclusion of her books pointed toward the downside of an institutional setting as it removed individualism. She concluded that a hotel, in one’s aging years, would better serve one’s needs: housekeeping, café/dining, concierge, etc.  

Beth and her husband set out to find towns to reside that maximized the use of taxis, and services to avoid the need for cars/driving. They began living in Sausalito, Calif., enjoying sails in San Francisco Bay and Vancouver. They enjoyed alpine skiing for much of their lives, bringing them to Zermatt, Switzerland. This served as a base for Beth’s research of European housing issues. Zermatt was a small town with several beneficial community and transport services. They also managed the same in Key West, Fl.,  where they enjoyed the local festivals, community theater and historic schooner sailing. Beth’s favorite activity was sitting at a café for hours with a coffee in hand, watching the world fly by.

Beth managed to live independently at the Westin hotel in Key West for most of her 80s, still traveling to Shelter Island and Zermatt as desired. At 90, she was physically independent enough to travel to Zermatt with her niece and nephew. After her final journey to Europe, Beth needed memory care, and moved into Symphony Assisted Living in Delray Beach, Fla. Far from being a “nursing home,” Symphony provided individualized activities, regular balanced meals, and constructive entertainment.  Her family, nearby, were involved in holiday activities, and Beth thrived in this setting. If she had been able to grasp that her previous anxieties were now calmed by this structured setting, she would be very pleased with the evolving state of elderly housing. Sociology students in the late 1970s, who read her books on housing, went on to develop such options as 55-plus communities, assisted living, co-ops, and memory care. Her family considers this to be a grand contribution to society that Beth never realized she was instrumental in creating.  

No services are planned on Shelter Island, but any memorial offering should be made to The Shelter Island Historical Society — P.O. Box 847, 16 South Ferry Road, Shelter Island, NY 11964 — which Beth enthusiastically supported.

The family would like to personally thank those who have been there for Beth in friendship and assisted in times of need: Jean Dickerson, Debbie Lechmanski, Sandy Waldner, Erna Csseus and the Symphony of Delray staff, Alberto Piceno (manager) and Diana (concierge) at Westin of Key West, and Irene Weaver of Zermatt, Switzerland … as Beth would say, “Cheers!”