Patricia Van Pelt

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. — Patricia Van Pelt, who passed away at home in Northampton, Massachusetts, on April 14, 2019 lived a generous life of curiosity, creativity, and engagement.

She touched many with her kindness, strengthened with her encouragement, inspired with her wisdom, and changed much with her drive and vision.

Patricia was internationally inclined from childhood. She was born Helen Patricia Bryson in New York, on November 11, 1933, to George Bryson, of Chicago, and Helen Whistondale Bryson, a Norwegian brought up in London, she traveled annually between the U.S. and England to visit family. After WWII, her family lived in London, where she attended secondary school.

She met her husband, Peter Van Pelt, at Swarthmore College, where she earned a BA in Art History in 1954. She also attended Harvard Graduate School of Education. The combined pursuits of art history and education formed the basis for many achievements over six decades.

She joined Peter on his Army posting to Europe, thus beginning many years of international residence with her own family. Patricia delivered three children in three countries – a son in England and daughters in Texas and Venezuela. She provided an upbringing full of books, ideas, art appreciation, and cultural awareness. That her children grew up to be artists and educators was no accident.

Patricia made the family moves seem easy. They lived in France, New York, Texas, Costa Rica, Venezuela, London (15 years total), Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Wisconsin. In 1985 they built a house on Lake Superior’s shore in Eagle Harbor, which became their primary home until moving to Northampton in 2013.

Patricia’s professional career started with volunteer work at the Katonah Gallery, New York, and continued in London, where she set up the first art docent program in that country, and then was appointed Art Education Officer for the Arts Council of Great Britain. In this newly-formed position, she brought cutting-edge standards for arts education to British museums and galleries.

In Eagle Harbor, she founded and ran a thriving independent bookstore, North Wind Books. In everything, Patricia relished connecting people to ideas, imagination, creativity, and the natural world, especially plants and birds. In later years, she continued this passion through writing, including numerous poems and short essays. She eventually donated the bookstore to Finlandia University in Hancock, on whose Board she served with enthusiasm for twelve years. During those same years, her dedication to the world of books and learning led her to help found the Friends of the Van Pelt Library at Michigan Tech, where her father-in-law had been president many years before.

Always happiest near a large body of water, perhaps with Jane Austen in hand, she is also remembered as a fabulous cook and gracious host and for her talent for nurturing friendships across the distances with a faithful network of correspondence.

Besides her husband, Peter, she is survived by son, John and his wife, Marsh Richards of Troy, Maine; daughter, Susan Petry and her husband, Ric of Bexley, Ohio; daughter, Lisken Dus and her husband, Bob of Pittsfield, Massachusetts; five grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and a number of step-grandchildren, step-great-grandchildren, and godchildren. The extended family rejoices in the influence of Patricia’s life on them and others.

A memorial gathering will be scheduled at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, friends are invited to go for a long walk, visit an art museum, or re-read a favorite book.

Ahearn Funeral Home. Northampton, MA. (413)587-0044.