Ellen Unwin McHugh LaFollette: March 15, 1933 - August 18, 2019
My beautiful, brilliant Mum passed away on Sunday after a short struggle with cancer. It happened so fast. She was diagnosed on July 4th and died a very short six weeks later.
She was a force of nature, always looking for ways to connect people and support their dreams. She brought joy wherever she went. I’m so grateful and so blessed that she was alive to witness my transformation from corporate drone to thriving online artist.
She cheered me on, always, no matter what.
Ellen Unwin McHugh La Follette died peacefully after a short illness on August 18, aged 86, surrounded by her family and her longtime physician and friend, Dr. Lester Jacobson. Ellen was born March 15, 1933, in Lawrence Massachusetts, a daughter of Francis Paul McHugh and Mary Herlihy McHugh. A graduate of Lawrence High School class of 1950, she went on to Radcliffe College, graduating in 1954 with a degree in English. She studied also at St Hilda’s College, Oxford.
Married on April 24, 1954, at Fort Bragg to Charles Sanborn La Follette a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Ellen lived with Charles first in Southern Pines, North Carolina, next Lippitt Estates, Rhode Island, then, beginning in 1957, at Corning and Big Flats, New York. In 1966 they moved to Europe, first to Brussels and later Paris. In 1971, they relocated to San Francisco to a house on the crest of Russian Hill where she lived for the rest of her life.
Ellen and Charles have four children, Laetitia La Follette (George Ryan) of Amherst Massachusetts, Dr. Lizellen La Follette (Peter Horn) of San Anselmo, California, Anne La Follette (Thomas Koegel) Mill Valley, California, and Charles McHugh La Follette (Dawn Davis) of New York City.
A devoted—and ever supportive and affectionate—wife, mother, and sister she is survived by her husband, her children, her sister Suzanne McHugh Piscitello, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and her brother and sister-in-law Dr. Paul McHugh and Jean B. McHugh of Baltimore. She was also a proud and inspiring grandmother to her seven grandchildren, and a spectacular and indulgent aunt to 12 nieces and nephews. A quintessential family person, the dynamo of a large clan, she hosted numerous memorable celebrations, reunions, and vacations, both in the US and abroad.
Her first job was teaching 5th grade, a class of 40 children, at Fort Bragg, and she later taught community college in upstate New York. She founded a magazine called the Finger Lakes Chronicle in the 1960’s. After raising her family, she embarked on a career in fund-raising and non-profit leadership.
She worked at Compass Associates with Anne Eliaser, and then joined Glady Thatcher and helped with Enterprise for High School Students.
Helping to establish the meals program at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, she cultivated an early donor to Glide, Susan Buffett, wife of Warren Buffett. The annual power lunch with Warren Buffett continues to be the mainstay of Glide’s fund-raising efforts today and 2000 meals are served daily at Glide.
Remembered in her high school yearbook for her “inexhaustible pep,” Ellen encouraged countless young people to pursue careers that suited their passions and aptitudes. As a connector of people and institutions, she was dedicated to improving education, especially at Radcliffe and Harvard Colleges.
A woman of marvelous style and enormous charm, Ellen could put any person at ease, and her generous and warm spirit lit up all her encounters. Her love for poetry, conversation, and visual art animated her days. And she shared her learning and her joie de vivre with people in the family and outside. The La Follette house on Larkin Street was often opened for book parties, lectures, fund raisers, and lively dinners.
Her contributions to her adopted city of San Francisco began with her successful effort to block the construction of two 40-story apartment buildings at the top of Russian Hill which would have marred the skyline forever.
She was active at the Metropolitan Club, the Radcliffe Club and Cercle de l’Union Interalliee in Paris.
She travelled the world, and had a special love for Greece and France. Those who love her cannot imagine the world without her.
A memorial service will be held in the fall. In lieu of flowers donations in Ellen’s name to Glide Memorial or to the Radcliffe Women’s Crew (c/o Liz O’Leary Varsity Heavyweight Coach), will be much appreciated.
When she died at our family home on Sunday afternoon, the front door blew open and she flew away.
I will love you always, Mum.
It’s Never Too Late to Create
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