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Elizabeth Gresham

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Elizabeth Gresham Obituary
Gresham, Elisabeth


"Live, that's the message! Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death." â€" Auntie Mame

Elisabeth Gresham passed away peacefully at home on Christmas morning. She was preceded in death by her husband Dennis; she is survived by faithful cat Rocky (clearly at the top of the order), daughter Toni, brothers Toby and Walter, sister Eva, niece Audrey and nephew Victor, cousins Jürgen and Sonja Staege, and beloved neighbors Shirley and Albert Anderson.

Liz was born in Marburg, Germany and emigrated to the U.S. with her father aboard the Queen Mary II at 5 years old. She grew up in Capitan, NM which gave her the unique perspective of life in a small rural town. She was profoundly influenced by her father, Wilhelm F. Rosenblatt MD, a tuberculosis physician and champion of public health. He nurtured in her a love of science, and in her senior year of high school her parents sent her to a NASA-sponsored science camp at the University of Texas in Austin. While on board the Queen Mary II, she and her father had played a sporty game of ping pong; years later this led her to wander into the UT student union table tennis room, where fate arranged that she would meet her future husband Dennis Greshamâ€"certainly not the intended goal of either NASA or her parents.

Liz married Dennis and later gave birth to daughter Toni; there were happy months living at a run-down apartment building at UT, fondly called the Roach Ranch, and later moved back to the family home in Corrales. Liz had been accepted into UNM Medical School but decided against it, knowing (in those days) that medical residency meant saying goodbye to family life for many years. She went through several jobs, including an early stint manufacturing silver jewelry for a mostly insolvent company called the Silver Outlaw; at 5 pm every payday, the 12 or so employees were locked in an all-out race to the bank to cash their paychecks, knowing only the first 8 would be successful. Her next job was as a district manager for the Albuquerque Tribune, and later she took over the Corrales paper route, 55 miles of dusty washboard roads every day. It may not have been a high status job, but (as she wisely observed) she was her own boss and worked outside in beautiful Corrales. She clawed her way through a degree (by then available) in computer science and made a deeply satisfying career in programming at UNM, just a few cubicles away from her husband. The couple made friendships with their coworkers which lasted a lifetime.

Table tennis permeated family life for decades; they competed in tournaments all over the country and traveled the world to see World Championships. Liz was also deeply interested in organizing tournaments and (with lifelong friends Tom Wintrich and Sue and Gene Sargent) helped run multiple national and international tournaments, including U.S. Opens and U.S. Closed National Championships, as well as tournaments in Albuquerque. Many a traveling player would come to a tournament in the difficult high-altitude conditions of Albuquerque, lose a solid 300 rating points, but then find cheer and comradeship in the after-tournament pizza and beer parties at Shakey's Pizza Parlor and make their way home fully satisfied and eager to come again next year.

In the early 1980's Liz developed a keen interest in rafting, which grew into a summer job rowing for a professional company down the Colorado River. She and Dennis later commissioned the construction of a beautiful wooden dory which they took down the massive rapids of the Colorado countless times. This later morphed into semiannual backpacking trips with Toni and Toby down the rugged trails among the immense, silent citadels of the Grand Canyon. Deep in the canyon, at precisely oh-crack-thirty every day, impatient to start the new day's adventures, Liz would exhort her crew to get out of their warm sleeping bags and into the frosty air (bribery with hot Vienna coffee worked best) and it was forward, march, once more. She knew every trail, every tiny spring which would produce water at only certain times a year, and was the fearless leader of our merry little band.

Liz experienced every moment of life with great exuberance, enthusiasm, and humor, much like her father. Whenever we were at the beginning of a trailhead, ready to take the plunge once again, she would give a happy shout and do a fist-pump, and Dennis (who was much more reserved) would simply shake his head at his wife's unbridled excitement. He was ever the willing, if sometimes reluctant, caboose on the train and it served him well; she took him around the world to places he would never have gone otherwise. She was definitely not a PTA mom; her daughter missed large amounts of grade school due to Liz calling in sick for her so they could go on a hike or spend the day together, or play in a table tennis tournament in another state. Truly her one lifelong absolute blind spot was her daughter; Liz was the finest cheerleader and unqualified supporter a kid could ever hope for.

Liz was in every way unconventional, and led her life according to her own impulses and dreams rather than follow the well-worn path. She had countless interests and pursuits. She was fascinated with green construction and built multiple adobe structures in early years; later she designed their straw-bale home in Corrales. She studied ornithology in college and loved and the grace and beauty of birds her entire life, and to her last day nothing pleased her more than to watch the Sandhill cranes daintily picking their way through the plowed winter fields of Corrales. And she took many walks along the Bosque ditchbankâ€"more difficult and unsteady as the days went onâ€"to admire the cottonwoods, mossy green water, wildflowers and occasional egret, sometimes needed a steadying hand or a pause to rest, but still muttering to herself every time, "C'mon, Mama, you can do it!" And you did, Mama, you sure as hell did.

Our family owes a huge debt of gratitude to the New Mexico Cancer Center, Dr. Jose Avitia and his team; nurse extraordinaire Marsha Rodger and the rest of the fabulous, life-affirming nursing staff. You gave us four more wonderful years with Liz than were on the original Master Schedule. We also extend our deepest thanks to our wonderful Nursing Assistant Dina and the rest of the staff from Hospice of New Mexico, and the tremendous caregivers from Home Care Assistance. You are all true heroes every day.

Thanks too, to all the nameless strangers who, upon seeing my mother's bald head and obvious frailty, immediately got up to give her a chair, spontaneously prayed for her (she found this equally touching and amusing), and even bought her meals. With her characteristic humor she once said to me, "Hell, I should have shaved my head YEARS ago!"
Published in Albuquerque Journal on Jan. 1, 2017
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