Sunday, October 30, 2011


Sophie with Sophie May
Ten days ago, my husband’s sister-in-law Sophie R. Chetwynd died after an extended illness. Her death has disrupted our lives, which are usually far from tranquil with everyday activities and events, but this sort of thing always prompts some thinking on our loved ones and on the life-changing events of our lives - births, deaths, and marriages. I thought I’d write a few words in tribute to this remarkable woman.

Sophie was one of the most creative persons I have ever had the pleasure to know. I have been endowed with more than my fair share of creativity, but compared to Sophie, my ability resembles that of a single-celled organism. Sophie sewed, sculpted, painted, and worked in charcoal. No doubt, she engaged in other arts and crafts. Over twenty-five years ago, she learned how to create Faberge-style decorative eggs, and in this art, she became nationally renowned. Besides creating the eggs, she taught thousands of classes in her basement several times a week, helping others develop the skill and art, several of whom are carrying on her tradition and classes.

Despite bouts of broken bones, diabetes, and several kinds of cancer, all of which but the last she defeated through sheer stubbornness and a positive attitude, Sophie persevered through thick and thin. She always looked for (and often found) the bright lining behind often ominous clouds. When she couldn’t find a bright lining, she made one.

With mighty social zeal, Sophie’s ego was never dominant in any of the civic positions she held. Whether she presided over the Greenwood Junior Women’s Club or the New England Egg Art Guild, was a matron of the Order of the Eastern Star, or was treasurer for the Stoneham Arts and Crafts Guild, she did the work because it needed to be done, never for self-aggrandizement. It didn’t matter whether or not she could afford it, if anyone came to her for help, she extended a hand and gave what she could, in time, effort, thought, materials.

She made so many friends that their visits became overwhelming during extended stays in the hospital. Two weeks before she died, she had eighteen visitors in her room at the nearby nursing facility over the course of one afternoon, prompting her daughter to email everyone to give her mother a chance to get some rest. Even when she was harder to visit at in-town Boston hospitals, the nurses always remarked that they had never before had a patient with so many visitors.

Sophie was married to my husband Phillip’s brother Bill, and they had a single child, Lauralyn. Some years later, Sophie and Bill divorced. Bill remarried, but the dedication of Bill and Sophie both to cooperate in raising their daughter resulted in a strong and devoted friendship among Bill, his second wife Joan, and Sophie.

Sophie’s house became Party Central for all of the big Chetwynd parties. An only child with no living relations, the Chetwynd family became Sophie’s only family. Divorce or no divorce, she became a sister to all of us as much as she would have been by blood. Nothing made her happier than to have her house bursting at the seams with friends and relations. (Believe me, it did burst at the seams!)

Besides the parties, she was famous for her meatballs and stuffed shells. Although she took her meatball recipe with her, Lauralyn has informed me that she has not only the stuffed-shell recipe, but knows its secret ingredient as well.

Sophie's "Lilies of the Valley" after Faberge
Lauralyn grew up to become a professional audiologist, and two years ago married Charlie. They welcomed little Sophie May into the world in early May this year, an event which Sophie anticipated with great delight. Sophie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January this year, and given about six months to live. Had she followed the doctor’s schedule, and had little Sophie May followed her doctor’s schedule, grandmother and granddaughter would probably have passed each other without meeting. But little Sophie was born a month premature, and big Sophie, true to form, refused to pay attention to the doctor, surpassing her deadline by about four months. Little Sophie grew up enough to recognize her devoted grandmother with big smiles, and big Sophie had six months to glow in the light of her grandchild and spoil her thoroughly.

Sophie Chetwynd has sojourned to a better place, forever removed from illness, pain and troubles. No doubt, she has already inventoried the egg-decoration stocks in Heaven and has signed up half the angelic populace for classes. I plan to sign up when I get there.

"It's my passion to take one source of life [an egg] and create something else," Sophie said in a Boston Magazine article in April 2009. This quote reveals much about Sophie besides egg art.  She always saw the future as an egg: full of potential.

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