Obituary : Erik Pfau
Erik Pfau, an Island resident for the past 42 years, died Saturday, May 31, at Martha's Vineyard Hospital, of pneumonia. He was 99 years old. A man of great integrity, he was well respected in the Island community. Generous and warm hearted, he was always concerned for the welfare of family and friends. He was strong-willed, ambitious, loyal, and disciplined. In his quiet way he accepted what life had to offer in a most positive manner.
Born on March 30, 1909, in Moscow, Russia, he was the son of Russian-born parents, Oskar Fjodorevitch Pfau and Ella von Kapf Brueggemann Pfau. The family left Russia before the Revolution and moved to Germany, where Erik attended formal schooling. After graduation from gymnasium, he went on to study Economics, Business Administration, and Pharmacology at the Universities of Berlin and Madrid. Erik learned and spoke four languages; all of which served him well in his subsequent corporate assignments and professional career.
In 1928, Erik started his business career in Spain. In 1931 he joined Hoffmann-La Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company, for whom he opened a regional office in Madrid. After the Spanish Civil War forced the closing of the Roche office in Madrid, he went to South America as the representative of two European firms. The outbreak of World War II found him in Mexico, cut off from European supplies. He chose to go to the United States in 1940 and work for Rare Chemicals Inc., as their export manager.
In 1942, Erik met Viennese-born Marianne Dorrit Willner, and a year later they were married. Dorrit was working at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital and the Anatomy Department of New York University. Erik was a Private in the U.S. Army at the time. After a brief period, he received an Honorable Medical Discharge due to poor eyesight. Following the Army, Erik continued his career in the field of pharmaceuticals and chemicals. He worked for Gallowhur Chemical Corporation as assistant to the President. In 1945, he joined American Home Products Corporation as Assistant Manager of the Whitehall Division, and was promoted to Manager the following year.
In 1948, Erik was offered another position with Roche International to become the General Manager of Latin America operations, headquartered in Montevideo, Uruguay. He accepted the five-year assignment, a position that gave momentum to his career. At the end of this five-year assignment, Erik and Dorrit returned to New York, and Erik rejoined American Home Products as Executive Vice President of Home Products International in charge of worldwide operations. Erik's ability to evaluate and work with people made him a good executive. He traveled frequently to South America, Europe, India, and the Far East. Many foreign business associates of these countries came to New York, and Erik and Dorrit enjoyed entertaining them. Erik was appointed President of American Home Products in 1954 and continued in that position until his retirement in 1966.
In 1966, after vacationing on Martha's Vineyard for several years, Erik chose early retirement on the Island. It surprised many of his business associates, who gave him six months to change his mind. They thought he couldn't stand "being idle." But Erik never lived to work - he worked to live - he was never idle.
Over the years, Erik contributed his many talents to Island life and service in the community. He and Dorrit joined Grace Episcopal Church after they settled in their home on the Lagoon. He lent his support assessing the church property and planning for its needs in the future. In 1997, Erik donated a new organ to the church. He was the Budget Director of Community Services, Inc., a member of the Tisbury Finance Committee, Treasurer of the Friends of Tisbury, and President and Treasurer of Camp Jabberwocky. He was a member of The First Third Luncheon Club of Martha's Vineyard, and the Duodecimo Club of Martha's Vineyard. Together with other community members, Erik was active and instrumental in preventing McDonald's from invading the Vineyard.
Former memberships off the Island include: St Andrews Golf Club, Hastings-on Hudson, N.Y.; the Golf Club of Uruguay; the Boulder Brook Riding Club, Scarsdale, N.Y.; the Southern Cross Club of New York; the National Foreign Trade Council New York City; and the U.S. Latin American Council.
Throughout his life Erik was interested in sports and liked being outdoors. In his youth he played hockey, and was an accomplished tennis player. In Spain, he took up horseback riding and skiing. When he went to South America the vogue was golf, and he joined in with enthusiasm. At the Vineyard, he happily sailed his sloop, the "Allegra," and later acquired a motorboat to go scalloping with his friends. Eric was a dedicated sun worshiper. He enjoyed clearing his woods of fallen branches and beautifying his property, especially with the Rhododendrons that now at his passing are making a festive display with their blossoms. He strived for perfection in all his activities.
Until late in life, Erik enjoyed good health. In his last years he needed more care than could be given him at home. Fortuitous circumstances brought him to Longhill, under the expert care of Elizabeth Sandland and her team of devoted health care aids. His wife Dorrit wishes to extend her gratitude for the personalized individual attention he received there. She would also like to extend heartfelt gratitude to the Reverend Alden Besse, the Reverend Robert Hensley, and the people of Grace Church, as well as the many friends who supported her. Erik is survived by his wife of 65 years, two nephews, and a niece.
Funeral services were held on June 7 at Grace Church with the Reverend Robert Hensley officiating.
Donations in Erik's memory may be made to the Perkins School for the Blind, 175 North Beacon Street, Watertown MA 03472 or Grace Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 1197, Vineyards Haven, MA 02568.