Featured Story

Shelter Island Reporter obituary: Vivienne M. Gershon

Vivienne Mary Gershon, a year-round Shelter Island resident for 65 years who participated in one of the greatest codebreaking operations of World War II, died on April 22, 2023 in Greenport.

She was 100 years old, and lived in her Lake Drive home until last week, when she entered hospice care.

Well known locally as the former proprietor of the House of Glass, a business she and her husband, Archie, established in the Center in 1962, Vivienne also earned a reputation as an Island artist through her paintings and hand-decorated ceramic ornaments.

With the debut of the 2014 film “The Imitation Game,” Vivienne, who was born and raised in England, drew fresh attention for her role in the intensive British effort, led by mathematician Alan Turing, to crack the Nazi communications code.

Living and working near Bletchley Park, a country estate outside London that was ground zero for British cryptography, Vivienne, a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (Wrens), led a team that operated the “Bombe” machines used to evaluate solutions to the German “Enigma” cipher. The successful project is credited with shortening the war by years.

Faithful to the Official Secrets Act, Vivienne did not speak publicly about her wartime work until the 1990s, when she noticed that someone had published a book about the work at Bletchley and realized the restrictions had been lifted.

Vivienne’s wartime experience ultimately led her the United States and to Shelter Island. At a Halloween dance, she met Archie Gershon, an American from Long Island then stationed in England with the U.S. Eighth Army Air Force.

They married in England, where Vivienne gave birth to their first child, Colin. The family settled in Port Washington, New York. Their second son, Gary, was born in 1948.

A decade later, the Gershons made Shelter Island, where they had a Silver Beach summer home, their fulltime residence. In 1962, they opened their business: Archie, who died in 1984, operated a glass business and hardware store and Vivienne ran a gift shop.

Over a long retirement, Vivienne traveled widely, worked on her ceramics, and committed many hours to volunteer activities. During her many trips — to China, Egypt, Kenya, Russia, Peru, and throughout Europe and the U.S. — art museums were a favorite stop. In the U.S., the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was a favorite, as were the Getty in Los Angeles, and The Met in New York.

A prolific postcard writer, she sent hundreds of them to family and friends, leaving behind a detailed record of her adventures.

After experimenting with oil painting and watercolors, Vivienne committed herself to ceramics, and eventually acquired her own kiln. She established an art studio in her home and began making ornaments of Shelter Island and East End landmarks and emblems — ferries, public libraries, churches, post offices, lighthouses, sailboats, and the like.

She produced thousands over the decades, hand-painting them and selling them through the Old Town Arts & Crafts Guild in Cutchogue and elsewhere. Many others she bestowed as gifts.

Born Vivienne Mary Foulds in Keighley, in West Riding of Yorkshire, on October 29, 1922, she was the only child of George Croft Foulds, a manufacturer, and his wife, Kate Winifred Lister, whose English family had settled in South Africa.

Vivienne was raised at the family home, Fence End, in Skipton. Her paternal grandfather, Charles Henry Foulds, served as mayor of Keighley in 1899. (Her stepmother, Elsie “Teddy” Foulds, OBE, also was mayor, in 1966-67.)

In the mid-1930s, she attended Wycombe Abbey, a boarding school for girls in the south of England, and there grew interested in art and photography. She graduated in 1939, briefly returned to Yorkshire, where she helped care for returning soldiers, and in the early 1940s entered the naval service.

In nearly 70 years as a resident of Shelter Island, Vivienne served on the School Board and volunteered for many years in the public library’s book sale and with the Historical Society.

She lived in the same Lake Drive home, built in the Tudor style, from 1970. Among its many charms were a wide variety of depictions, in all sizes and many media, of sheep — perhaps the most common creature in the Yorkshire Dales of her girlhood.

Vivienne is survived by her two sons, Colin, of New Haven, Conn., and Gary of Jersey City, N.J.; five grandchildren: Brian, of Renton, Wash.; Allison, of Bedminster, N.J.; Eric, of Woodbridge, Conn.; Colin A., of Portland, Ore.; and Timothy, of West Brookfield, Vermont; and by nine great-grandchildren. In her final years, Vivienne received excellent home care from Karen Kilb of Shelter Island.

Into her 101st year, Vivienne enjoyed outings, most often with her sons, daughter-in-law Millicent, and granddaughter Allison.

She continued to visit the hair salon and to dress with style. For many years her favorite cocktail had been a whiskey sour; late in life, she converted to margaritas.

Last October, Vivienne celebrated her 100th birthday party at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club with family and friends.

A memorial service will take place this summer. Details to follow.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Shelter Island Ambulance Foundation, PO Box 547, Shelter Island, NY 11964.