Life,Liberty and Pursuit

Life,Liberty and Pursuit

I lost my Aunt Cynthia in April. She passed away after a nearly 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Taking the disease into consideration, I really lost her years ago.

Cynthia was the last and youngest of the three sisters to go. Joanne, the middle sister, died in 2006. She suffered from another form of dementia for about 13 years. I’m named for my mother’s two sisters: Cynthia Joanne Stoutamyer Wright.

My Mom, Nancy, was the oldest. She died in 1988 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s. I was 30 when she died, 20 when she was diagnosed. All those things a daughter wants to ask her Mom when she herself becomes a Mom were lost to me.

But Aunt Cynthia was always available to talk. Although she lived all the way across the country, she was only a phone call away. She never had children herself, but she was a teacher most of her adult life, so she understood children quite well.

Cynthia taught elementary school in New York City for about 20 years. Then she became a mentor teacher at City College in New York, teaching others to teach.

It was a second career for Cynthia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1952 and worked in advertising when she first moved to New York. But being a teacher was her calling. She earned her master’s degree in education in 1974.

I always admired the fact that Cynthia went back to school at age 44 and just changed her life. It inspired me to finally go back to college and get my bachelor’s degree in my mid-thirties.

It was a challenge to go to school full time while working 32 hours a week, raising two young children and having a husband who was deployed with the Navy almost as much as he was home. But hey, if my mentor and hero Aunt Cynthia could do it, I could too.

Aunt Cynthia was a wonderful aunt. She came to visit many times as my siblings and I grew up in California. Cynthia traveled all over the world during her summer breaks and always brought back exotic gifts for her nieces and nephews, and adventurous tales of her travels. Four of us benefited from her gracious attention: my brother, Scott, sister, Andie, and I in California; and our cousin Doug in Tennessee.

I actually spent a lot of time with Cynthia in New York when I was in my twenties. I was stationed in Virginia Beach, Va. when I was in the Navy and would travel to see her as often as I could. My Navy schools were all located in Lakehurst, N.J., so when I was there, I would spend many weekends with Cynthia in New York.

She always made sure I got the real New York experience. Of course she took me to all the museums, and New York has many great ones. We had tea at the Plaza Hotel (I still have the book about Eloise at the Plaza she gave me), visited the giant FAO Schwartz toy store, went ice skating in Rockefeller Center in front of the giant Christmas tree, watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and took in some Broadway shows.

Of course we also enjoyed the many automated Christmas displays in the department store windows, shopped at Macy’s, Gimbels and Bloomingdales. There were many walks in Central Park and all the wonders offered there. She and a friend gave me my first taste of lobster at the Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park.

Perhaps the most memorable and meaningful for me were the many dinner parties at her studio apartment on the Upper East Side with distinguished guests and intelligent conversation. I remember one dinner in particular when our party included the editor of Redbook magazine and a famous movie star.

Through Cynthia’s mentoring and encouragement I learned about potential and the joy one derives from reaching for it. The world and my life are less without her, but she will live on in my memory and the memories of those whose lives she touched. And they are many. God speed Cynthia.

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