Elizabeth Sturz

NY Times Obituary of Elizabeth Sturz

Memories of Aunt Elizabeth

by Ellen Harold

Elizabeth's grandfather, H. T. Lyttleton, was a judge in Marshall, Texas, who early in the last century was burned in effigy by the Ku Klux Klan for suggesting that an African-American defendant or a labor organizer might be entitled to a fair trial.

When Elizabeth was two years old, calamity struck her family. Her father, a young lawyer, became ill and severely disabled and had to be permanently hospitalized. At the time, Elizabeth's older brother, my father, Michael Harold was four and her younger sister Anne was an infant. They and their mother, left in straightened circumstances, for quite a few years had to live with different relatives, until their mother found a house for them in Dallas. Their mother, a schoolteacher who loved poetry, used to quote without irony Shakespeare's lines: "Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its head." Elizabeth and her brother and sister were great readers and all three wanted to become writers, and/or poets. They were also greatly interested in social questions. They remind me a little bit of the Bastable children in E. Nesbit's The Story of the Treasure Seekers, trying to restore the lost fortunes of their house. When they were teenagers, my father, in a grandly Oswald-Bastable-like gesture, took it on himself to write a formal letter to all the churches in Dallas on behalf of the three of them, stating that they couldn't in good conscience be members of any of them because of their hypocrisy on social issues.

When I was a child I remember my Aunt Elizabeth as very independent and rather distant. She occasionally used to call me teasingly "Elaine the fair, Elaine the beauty maid of Astalot," and I couldn't be sure if she meant it as a complement. In fact, being shy and rather self-conscious and prickly. I probably took it as more ironic than it was. But I do remember Aunt Elizabeth's great gift for a memorable spontaneous gesture. For example, on my sixth birthday she and Anna gave me a large candle in the shape of a Christmas tree and a little plastic elf. My mother was away in Europe "finding herself" as a journalist after her divorce from my father, and I was living in New York with my grandparents, and for many nights my grandmother used to light this candle with the little elf standing beside it when I went to bed. I thought it was a thrillingly grown up present. It made my sixth birthday seem like a rite of passage and meant a great deal to me.

Then later, after my grandparents had taken me to Italy to rejoin my mother, Aunt Elizabeth and Anna visited us in Rome. Aunt Elizabeth and my mother (her former sister-in-law) took Anna and me to visit the "Anti-Catholic" or Protestant cemetery in Rome where the poets Keats and Shelley are buried, and there Aunt Elizabeth placed a large bunch of roses on Shelley's grave. This cemetery was very special because Mussolini, a nationalist who hated the English-speaking countries and their literatures, had been planning to pave it over, and it and the city of Rome had been liberated just a few years earlier by our American armies. This is a very vivid memory for me, too, for my mother used to read me a lot of English poetry.

When I returned to New York a few years later - again to live with my grandparents for a while - I used to visit Anna in Bucks County, where Aunt Elizabeth had a little cabin on a piece of land with a large stream running through it that she co-owned with her brother-in-law. The nearest neighbors had a dairy farm with a hayloft to jump into and three children our own age. I remember how Aunt Elizabeth sentAnna and me to walk to the country store, about a mile away, and when we came back she had arranged a most splendid Easter treasure hunt all along the stream with candy and eggs hidden in the mosses and wild flowers. And of course there was Anna's Mexican parrot, Emiliano Zapata, who flew freely in the trees above our heads and would join us at meals and ride into town with us in Elizabeth's jeep.

Another thing I most remember about Aunt Elizabeth from these years is her voice - when she sang a ballad like "Barbara Allen" or "Come all You Fair and Tender Ladies," or even a simple round, it made chills run down your spine. For me, having heard Aunt Elizabeth sing, there could be no other folk singer, and the folk revival consequently left me rather cold.

And her cooking. My mother and Aunt Elizabeth were the best cooks I have ever known, by a long shot. And other people who knew them would say the same, I'm sure. They were of the same generation as Julia Child, and like her, they explored French food with adventurous seriousness and joyous enthusiasm. I once asked Elizabeth what cookbook she used, and she said, the "Larousse Gastronomique." She also read Alexander Dumas and Brillat Saverin on cooking and eating. Elizabeth was an inventive cook who thought up new dishes, much more ambitious and elaborate than my mother, who was more inclined to improvise. Annasays Elizabeth would like awake all night planning elaborate meals. Her cooking was like poetry.

Those were the days when one person felt that he or she could really make a difference. As a journalist, my mother had traveled to Yugoslavia for several months to see what life was life under Tito's communism, and Aunt Elizabeth went to live in Spain for two years with Herb and Anna to find out the truth about life under Fascism and she and Herb wrote a book about it, Reapers of the Storm. Elizabeth also went to live with Anna in Israel for eight months in the late 1950s because she wanted to find out about that, too.

Obviously Elizabeth was a very busy person, and, as I said, during my childhood I remember her as reserved and rather preoccupied, but about thirty years ago, when my mother died, she called me on the telephone and surprised me with her great warmth and helpfulness. Shortly afterward, when I read her book, Widening Circles, I was very moved. Though the writing was rather elliptical, I felt very strongly that she wanted to explain herself to the world and especially to her family. It was a remarkable experience because as I was reading I could almost hear her voice talking to me and I had the powerful illusion that she had written it just for me.

In these last years I have seen Aunt Elizabeth more often, and she has opened up and shared many many stories and memories with us about her childhood, my father, and other relatives in Texas, as a way to ensure that, by sharing them, these important memories wouldn't die with her, I think. And through her stories, these people who lived long ago finally began to differentiate themselves from each other and come alive, so that I can now tell them apart and remember their names and even come to know them and have them live in me, as Elizabeth herself has done. And this is something that has greatly enriched my life.

A Colleague Remembers Elizabeth L. Sturz

by Michael Rahav, Ph.D.

My heartfelt condolences to Elizabeth L. Sturz's big family: Herb, daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Between the years 1990 and 1997, I was the Director of Research and Evaluation at Argus Community, and the Principal Investigator (P.I.) on a $4.5 million dollar research grant received from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study the efficacy of various approaches to the treatment of mentally ill chemical abusers (MICA, or Dually Diagnosed.)

From the very first day of our research project Elizabeth was keenly involved and a full participant of every step of the enormous and complicated project. She participated in generating research hypotheses; in selecting the participants for the study; in the development of questionnaires; data collection; statistical analyses; reports; and publications. Elizabeth was the best president of an organization that a researcher could have hoped for. Not only was she so sharp as to understand the intricacies and methodological complexity of the research project, she was also incredibly enthusiastic about it and followed it up with enormous intellectual curiosity. At one point Elizabeth risked her own standing with an important New York City agency, in order to back us up in a dispute with this agency.

Elizabeth introduced me to her daughter Shelly Goodman, and her son-in-law Mr. Volf Roitman. I fondly remember spending a week with Shelly and her husband in Barcelona, visiting drug treatment facilities in Spain and in South France.

The more than 50 publications that came from the Argus MICA Research Project are a testimony to the ways one person, Elizabeth Sturz, dared and succeeded in challenging the disadvantaged and disadvantageous odds of so many lives.

May the memory of Elizabeth Sturz always be what she has proven: that even lives at the very bottom of psychological, physical, and economic despair could be saved and turned over with enough tough love and endless believing in the goodness of all mankind.

Larchmont, New York

October 23, 2010