Eleanor "Lee" (Hart) Hawkins (1924 - 2014)

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NORTHAMPTON - Eleanor "Lee" (Hart) Hawkins, 90, an educator and community activist, died Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, at her Northampton home in the Lathrop Communities.

The daughter of Mabel (Bauer) and Robert Hart, she was born Feb. 13, 1924, in San Jose, California, and grew up primarily in Carmel, close to the ocean.

She was predeceased by her husband Roger, and is survived by children Sue and her husband Wayne, Jeremy and Rebecca, grandchildren Jessica and Justin Hawkins, and great-granddaughter Mya Ray.

She graduated from the University of California Berkeley and received her master's degree from Bank Street College of Education.

Lee was known for her ready smile and willingness to help those in need. Lee inherited an adventurous spirit from her parents, and honed it while traveling across the country as a teenager with family friends.

After college, she went to Maine to work as a summer camp counselor, an unintended permanent move to the east coast. She moved to New York City and worked for Travelers Aid Society where she met Roger Hawkins who would become her husband. In 1948, she went on a yearlong solo journey to post-war Europe, hosteling and traveling primarily on her 3-speed bike through England, Scotland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden (where she settled in as a nanny).

Lee returned to New York City and married Roger in 1950. She worked as a comparison shopper for Macy's and did her student teaching at Downtown Community School, an experimental, cooperative and racially integrated school. There she met her educational soul mate and lifelong friend, Grace Ilchuk and the folksinger Pete Seeger who helped shape her commitment to social action.

Rog and Lee moved to Staten Island, where they raised their family. They joined the Unitarian Church of Staten Island, where Lee found kindred spirits. Lee had a fulfilling career as a public school teacher for 18 years, instigated community projects that benefited kids of all ages, organized Campfire Girls groups, and served as the director of religious education, chairman of the social concerns committee and president of her church. She brought to her family rich educational experiences and happy memories of camping, creating impressive parade floats and costumes, dramatic-thematic birthday parties, folk dancing, singing, and 'making do' on a shoestring.

In 1991, Lee and Roger moved to Northampton, settling in the Lathrop Community, and diving headlong into the activities and community of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. Among many other things, Lee made food for the homeless shelter, worked on the Living Wage Campaign and was a devoted member of the Social Justice Committee. She worked with prison inmates in Springfield, using a decisional training program and was an avid supporter of the Treehouse Community for foster families in Easthampton. She was never shy about sharing her opinions, but listened readily to others.

Lee advocated for quality of life, and death with dignity. In August, she did what she had long planned: feeling that she had lived a good, long life and was ready to move on, she stopped eating and drinking. Over the following two weeks, with caring support from Cooley Dickinson Hospice 'angels', she spent many loving hours with her children, grandchildren, and friends from her beloved community. She died Tuesday, Sept. 2, with her children holding her hands, drifting off as a hospice harpist played.

The celebration of lee's Life will be held Saturday, Sept. 27, at 3 p.m. at the Unitarian Society of Northampton, with reception to follow.

Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of Cooley Dickinson, 168 Industrial Drive, Northampton, MA 01060, or to Treehouse Foundation, attn: Judy Cockerton, 1 Treehouse Circle, Easthampton, MA 01027.

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Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Sept. 13, 2014
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