Manhattan, New York - Mary Ellen (Nichols) Fahs, 84, passed away peacefully on March 20, 2021 after succumbing to injuries from an accident.
Born on June 12, 1936 in Oyster Bay on Long Island NY, Mary Ellen was the daughter of William and Isabel Nichols. She attended West Side School in Syosset, NY, a small, public elementary school. West Side's progressiveness and diversity helped shape Mary Ellen's future work with the underserved and her views on social equality. It was at West Side where she also met her best friend of more than 70 years, Dee (Schoonmaker) Miller.
Mary Ellen then attended The Green Vale School in Glen Head, NY, followed by Miss Porter's School in Farmington, CT. With a mission to "educate young women to become informed, bold, resourceful and ethical global citizens," Mary Ellen would go on to embody Miss Porter's expectation for their graduates "to shape a changing world."
Mary Ellen graduated from Smith College in 1958 with a degree in Art History. An intelligent woman, Mary Ellen was decidedly self-assured and ahead of her years. While she had the benefit of a great education and was correspondingly strong academically, Mary Ellen also cited that her father frequently asked her opinion, particularly on important questions regarding his business matters. She remarked that caused her to feel from an early age that her opinions, especially as a woman, mattered and were worthy of consideration.
In 1959, Mary Ellen met her husband of 29 years, Raymond Ziegler Fahs at a party. An investment banker, Ray announced during the gathering, "You are the woman I am going to marry" to which she shot right back, "Well, then I guess I'd better give you my number." They were married soon thereafter early in 1960. They had a strong and happy marriage of shared interests and visible love.
In 1969, their son, Thomas Reade Fahs was born, bringing them tremendous joy and happiness. The family enjoyed traveling, sailing, tennis and New York cultural events, especially opera. During these years as a young family, Mary Ellen was an active volunteer with the New York Junior League (NYJL). Through the NYJL and other organizations she felt strongly about, Mary Ellen advocated for equality in all forms, particularly passionate about racial, gender and academic equality. During her tenure as President of the NYJL from 1970-1972, the NYJL hosted its first African American debutante. Mary Ellen remained a member of the NYJL until her passing.
In 1974, the Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) was established in East Harlem, NY, in a partnership with Center for Comprehensive Health Practice (CCHP) and the NYJL. Mary Ellen served as the Director of Volunteer Services at ECDC, and in 1979, edited an early childhood development book authored by eminent child psychologist Dr. Nina R. Leif, The First Year of Life: A Guide to Parenting. Mary Ellen later co-authored with Dr. Lief the second book in the series, The Second Year of Life, as well as the third book with Dr. Lief and Rebecca Thomas, The Third Year of Life.
In 1985, Ray suffered a stroke. Mary Ellen lovingly cared for Ray for four years until his passing in 1989, while also working full time and completing her Ph.D. Ray was the love and soulmate of her life.
In 1987, at the age of 51, Mary Ellen obtained a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University, concentrating her thesis on teen development through research based at a Harlem public school. Following her doctorate, she went to work for the CCHP, where she would remain for 27 years until her retirement at age 78. There she worked as a psychologist for underserved children in East Harlem. As part of CCHP, Mary Ellen founded and led an innovative Infant School to work with parents of children born with drugs or alcohol in their bloodstream to help the children advance and develop cognitively.
Concurrently, she became an active Board Member and eventually President of New York's Public Education Association (PEA), a non-profit organization dedicated to systemic and sustainable reform of New York City's public school system. In 2000, PEA merged with the Center for Educational Innovation and in 2015, was renamed the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI). Mary Ellen continued to serve on the Board of CEI until her passing.
Judy Roth Berkowitz, Chair of the Board of Trustees for CEI said, "Mary Ellen was a true advocate for early childhood education and champion for the importance of early language acquisition. She was passionate about early learners and always looked at CEI's initiatives from their perspective. She will be remembered as a fierce, yet gentle advocate for children, and a tremendously dedicated mentor to the organization who will be greatly missed." Mary Ellen's work with the CCHP, PEA and CEI was recognized and honored throughout her life.
Mary Ellen's life revolved around three geographic communities: Carnegie Hill in New York City's Upper East Side, where she resided until her death; Syosset/Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island, where she spent time in late spring and early summer; and long summers at her family home in Deer Isle, Maine, which she considered "Heaven on Earth." She was deeply invested in each of these communities, particularly in sustainability and education projects.
She was a member of St. John's Church in Cold Spring Harbor and Sunset Congregational Church in Deer Isle, Maine. Later in life, she was especially active in All Soul's Church in Manhattan as a Deacon and Lay Pastoral Associate. She greatly enjoyed her role on the church's Welcoming Committee, taking fervent notes on each person and family she met to ensure they truly felt like a part of the All Souls family and to genuinely get to know them. In 2019, Mary Ellen received a "Deacons' Award Citation" from All Soul's for her "extraordinary service and dedication."
Mary Ellen's intellectual curiosity continued after her retirement. She recently began studying Buddhism, as well as practicing meditation and participating in various James Joyce and poetry reading groups.
She is survived by her beloved son, Tom Fahs (Melissa); grandchildren, Grace and Jackson Pride; brother, Tom Nichols; niece Katie Baldwin Eng (Randall); niece Louise Cottrell (Robert); nephew, Reade Fahs (Katie), as well as many cherished great-nieces and great-nephews.
Celebrations of Mary Ellen's life in both New York City and Deer Isle, Maine will be announced.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to one of the following non-profit organizations that were particularly meaningful to Mary Ellen: Center for Educational Outreach (CEI) (the-cei.org), Island Workforce Housing (islandworkforcehousing.org), New York Junior League (NYJL.org) and All Souls Church (allsouls-nyc.org).
Arrangements by James & John Heald.