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, where her father was the director of physiology at the Mayo Institute of Experimental Medicine and an avocational farmer who raised purebred Holstein Friesian cattle.
The journey that carried Elizabeth from Minnesota to Boston, Brooklyn and Shelter Island, N.Y. - with additional travels to many far-flung parts of the world - began in 1961. After taking her degree in Child Development from the University of Minnesota, she married architecture student William Pedersen of St. Paul. In 1962, when Bill's pursuit of a graduate degree at MIT took to them to Cambridge, Mass., Elizabeth worked in both 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 study 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.
The Pedersens bought their first get-away house on Shelter Island, at the far east end of Long Island, in 1976. The island prides itself on being a tiny chunk of the 19th Century floating off the coast, an ethos that suited the Pedersen family well, with sailing, biking and community involvement at the core of their island experience.
Encouraged by the approbation and the example of her Minnesota parents, who had made a gift of their farm to the City of Rochester (now Essex Park), 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: the preservation of archives lovingly collected over the previous many decades.
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 were to survive. Elizabeth then recruited her husband, now a world-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 structure, which was built in 1743. Today, coinciding with Elizabeth's death, the completion of renovations and additions has been realized and the entire campus renamed The Shelter Island History Center. Its existence is a testament to the Minnesota origins that imbued her with determination, vision and generous spirit.
Elizabeth's life-long love of music was also part of her Minnesota heritage. Her mother, a pianist, fostered a love of music in all her family. Elizabeth mastered the flute, instilled a love of music in her own daughters and created a family quartet that often played together - with Elizabeth on flute, Lea on violin, Kia on cello and Bill playing piano. Most recently, when violinist Itzhak Perlman established the Perlman Music Program, a training program for brilliant young strings players, on Shelter Island, Elizabeth and Bill became devotees of each season's concerts, recitals and master classes.
Elizabeth is survived by her beloved and loving husband of 58 years, William Pedersen; their daughters, Lea and Kia; a grandson, Teph; and son-in-law, Jesse Huot; her sisters, Dorothy Dixon of Portland, Ore., and Sally Kleaveland of Spokane, Wash.
In Elizabeth's memory, donations may be made to the Shelter Island History Center and/or the Elizabeth Pedersen Educational Fund.