The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society

Update: Stephanie’s gravestone is unveiled.

Remembering Stephanie Thompson

We are saddened to learn of the death of Stephanie Thompson, a founding officer and longtime member of NYTTS, on July 26, 2011. Stephanie is pictured here (seated) with her cousin, Rosemary Spanos, enjoying her favorite dish, roast duck.

Michael Sherwin, also one of the earliest NYTTS members, who has known Stephanie for many years, has written the following obituary:

Stephanie Thompson — An Appreciation

Stephanie Thompson, a founding officer of the NYTTS Board and longtime member of the Society, died July 26 in Manhattan at the age of 77 following a brave, year-long battle with brain cancer. Beginning in 1971, Stephanie was Secretary of the Board and kept minutes of the Board’s monthly meet­ings and NYTTS membership meetings, which were published in the Soci­ety’s newsletter (prior to its being renamed The Plastron Papers).

Stephanie was so modest and self-effacing that it was difficult for others to realize the breadth and depth of her activities and interests. Born in Chicago and raised in Arlington, Virginia, Stephanie initially pursued dance training, including ballet, Broadway, and modern. She tap danced with Shirley MacLaine and appeared with the Radio City Rockettes in Atlantic City. After studies at George Washington University, Stephanie joined the Ringling Brothers Circus, where she rode elephants and performed aerial ballet and acrobatics. As a beauty pageant queen, Stephanie was a contestant for the title of Miss Washington, D.C., in the Miss America Competition.

Stephanie was involved for 50 years in the field of acting, first appearing in an off-Broadway show in 1959 and landing a character part in a TV commercial just five years ago as a “bag lady.” Until her final illness intervened, she was still actively participating in acting workshops and staged readings. For the last 30 years of her career preceding her retirement, Stephanie was a staff member in the accounting department of The New Yorker magazine.

An accomplished ice skater, Stephanie yearly attended the United States Figure Skating Championships as a spectator. Sufficiently knowledgeable to have been able to serve as a judge herself, she would also go to senior, junior, and novice skating competitions, and showed an uncanny ability to predict future Olympic stars years in advance. She was equally well-informed regarding women’s gymnastics. In addition, as a trained dancer, Stephanie could attend a performance of Giselle by the Bolshoi Ballet starring Nina Ananiashvili and authoritatively analyze her technique and style compared with other prima ballerinas.

Stephanie loved to travel and visited China, Russia (St. Petersburg), Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries, among other destinations. She voyaged to Australia and New Zealand several times, delighting in their unique marsupials and rare chelonian species. For an impending visit to Greece, she went so far as to learn to read and speak Greek to enhance her experience. She greatly enjoyed dining out in New York’s various ethnic restaurants to sample a wide variety of cuisines.

Stephanie was devoted to her turtles Hamlet and Romeo as well as Little Green Devil, a feisty red-eared slider whom she adopted at the behest of another NYTTS member who could no longer keep him. A longtime supporter of NYTTS, Stephanie never missed attending the Annual NYTTS Show.

Four days before she died, I visited Stephanie and read to her messages of encouragement and goodwill from the NYTTS Board and Barbara Daddario, Public Information and Education Chair. Though she was very frail, Stephanie’s face lit up in a huge smile and she replied, “That’s wonderful!” As NYTTS brought joy to Stephanie in her final days, so did Stephanie bring joy to her “NYTTS family” and to all those who had the privilege of knowing her.

—Michael Sherwin, Past President, NYTTS
(Hold mouse over image to pause slide show.)

Cards of condolence for her family may be sent to NYTTS, 1214 W. Boston Post Road, Box 267, Mamaroneck, NY 10543.

A graveside service was held Wednesday, August 3, at the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Pictured from left to right in the assembled photos above are:

Michael Sherwin (leader of service), Stephanie’s friend; Past President, NYTTS
Rose Sherwin, Stephanie’s friend; Michael’s wife; Past Treasurer, NYTTS
Nina Sherwin, Michael’s daughter
Tricia Barbeau, Stephanie’s friend from Virginia
Jessica Spanos-Dennis, Rosemary Spanos’s daughter
Rosemary Spanos, Stephanie’s cousin from Virginia
William Spanos, Rosemary’s husband
Marc Cimbal, Stephanie’s Power of Attorney & Executor
Susan Satenstein, Stephanie’s neighbor from Tudor City
Barbara Daddaro, NYTTS
Jim Van Abbema, NTTTS
Pictured right: After the service, Stephanie’s friends gathered
at Epsteinís Restaurant in Hartsdale, NY, to celebrate her life.

Among other meditations, prayers, and readings, the following
two poems were read honoring Stephanie’s love of turtles:

To a Box Turtle
by John Updike

Size of a small skull, and like a skull segmented,
of pentagons healed and varnished to form a dome,
you almost went unnoticed in the meadow,
among its tall grasses and serrated strawberry leaves
your mottle of amber and umber effective camouflage.

You were making your way through grave distances,
your forefeet just barely extended and as dainty as dried
coelacanth fins, as miniature sea-fans, your black nails
decadent like a Chinese empressís, and your head
a triangular snake-head, eyes ringed with dull gold.

I pick you up. Your imperious head withdraws.
Your bottom plate, hinged once, presents a No
with its courteous waxed surface, a marquetry
of inlaid squares, fine-grained and tinted
tobacco-brown and the yellow of a pipe smokerís teeth.

What are you thinking, thus sealed inside yourself?
My hand must have a smell, a killerís warmth.
It holds you upside down, aloft, undignified,
your leathery person amazed in the floating dark.
How much pure fear can your wrinkled brain contain?

I put you down. Your tentative, stalk-bending walk
resumes. The manifold jewel of you melts into grass.
Power mowers have been cruel to your race, and creatures
less ornate and unlikely have long gone extinct;
but natureís tumults pool to form a giant peace.

© 1998, The New Yorker magazine. Reprinted with permission
in the Plastron Papers, January–February 1990.

Baby Tortoise
by D. H. Lawrence

You know what it is to be born alone,
Baby tortoise!

The first day to heave your feet little by little from the shell,
Not yet awake,
And remain lapsed on earth,
Not quite alive.

A tiny, fragile, half-animate bean.

To open your tiny beak-mouth, that looks as if it would never open,
Like some iron door;
To lift the upper hawk-beak from the lower base
And reach your skinny little neck
And take your first bite at some dim bit of herbage,
Alone, small insect,
Tiny bright-eye,
Slow one.

To take your first solitary bite
And move on your slow, solitary hunt.
Your bright, dark little eye,
Your eye of a dark disturbed night,
Under its slow lid, tiny baby tortoise,
So indomitable.
No one ever heard you complain.

You draw your head forward, slowly, from your little wimple

And set forward, slow-dragging, on your four-pinned toes, Rowing slowly forward.
Whither away, small bird?
Rather like a baby working its limbs,
Except that you make slow, ageless progress
And a baby makes none.

The touch of sun excites you,
And the long ages, and the lingering chill
Make you pause to yawn,
Opening your impervious mouth,
Suddenly beak-shaped, and very wide, like some suddenly gaping pincers;
Soft red tongue, and hard thin gums,
Then close the wedge of your little mountain front,
Your face, baby tortoise.

Do you wonder at the world, as slowly you turn your head in its wimple
And look with laconic, black eyes?
Or is sleep coming over you again,
The non-life?

You are so hard to wake.
Are you able to wonder?
Or is it just your indomitable will and pride of the first life
Looking round
And slowly pitching itself against the inertia
Which had seemed invincible?

The vast inanimate,
And the fine brilliance of your so tiny eye,

Nay, tiny shell-bird,
What a huge vast inanimate it is, that you must row against,
What an incalculable inertia.

Little Ulysses, fore-runner,
No bigger than my thumb-nail,
Buon viaggio.

All animate creation on your shoulder,
Set forth, little Titan, under your battle-shield.

The ponderous, preponderate,
Inanimate universe;
And you are slowly moving, pioneer, you alone.

How vivid your travelling seems now, in the troubled sunshine,
Stoic, Ulyssean atom;
Suddenly hasty, reckless, on high toes.

Voiceless little bird,
Resting your head half out of your wimple
In the slow dignity of your eternal pause.
Alone, with no sense of being alone,
And hence six times more solitary;
Fulfilled of the slow passion of pitching through immemorial ages
Your little round house in the midst of chaos.

Over the garden earth,
Small bird,
Over the edge of all things.

With your tail tucked a little on one side
Like a gentleman in a long-skirted coat.

All life carried on your shoulder,
Invincible fore-runner.

See The Literature Network Forums for an in-depth literary analysis of this poem.

Stephanie’s gravestone is unveiled at the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Note turtle engraving ~ Photo by Michael Sherwin