Marianne Dorrit Pfau of Vineyard Haven died on Friday, Jan. 2, at the age of 96.
She was an only child born to Edith Mandl Willner and Hugo Willner in Vienna, Austria, in 1918. Her father ran the Austrian Railroad, and died when she was just 17.
After Hitler invaded Austria in 1939, Dorrit, as she was known, was helped to get out of the country. She came to the U.S. to reside with her uncle and aunt, Otto and Theresa Willner, who were both doctors in New Haven, Conn. Her mother caught the last plane out of Austria, and lived in London for a few years before joining her in this country.
Once in the United States, Dorrit attended the University of Connecticut at Storrs, with thoughts of going into medicine. She graduated in May 1943 from the College of Arts and Sciences with high distinction in chemistry. She earned Senior Honors with a book prize for highest standing in scholarship. Dorrit worked at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York City, and published articles for the anatomy department at New York University in 1942 and 1943.
Dorrit met Erik Pfau in 1942 while he was with Hoffman-La Roche pharmaceuticals. They married in 1943 and lived in New York City, where they had a wonderful life, traveling to ski in Europe, entertaining Erik’s clients, and moving to Montevideo, Uruguay, when Erik became head of Roche International for Latin America from 1948 to 1953. They returned to New York in 1954 when Erik became president of American Home Products. In 1966 they retired to Martha’s Vineyard.
Smart as a whip, Dorrit designed their home, Miramar, on the lagoon using Ramsey/ Sleeper architectural graphics standards and the builder Herb Hancock from Chilmark. At Miramar, Dorrit and Erik entertained friends from near and far. She could always sing along, or sing solo, songs from a lifetime of listening to great music and seeing Broadway shows.
Having worked at the Columbia School Library when they lived in New York, Dorrit was always interested in the arts, science, and theology, and was always reading. She took classes at the Episcopal Theological (Divinity) School in Cambridge, while commuting from the Vineyard and writing notebooks’ worth of spiritual things. In the last years of her life she was able to travel to the Holy Land and Rome, two of her favorite places, and never ceased discussing politics, history, literature, and culture.
Dorrit and her husband were members of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven, where Dorrit served on the altar guild and vestry and taught Monday School, a Christian Ed program for kids, though she and Erik had no children of their own. She led prayer groups in her home and at the church, creating a “12-step for Christians” program before it became popular. She played the Virgin Mary in the gospel play “Who Is This King of Glory” and its sister passion play in 1976 with the Island Theatre Workshop. Dorrit was also active in Cursillo, the Order of St. Luke the Physician, and Christian Healing Ministries.
Among her many friends and spiritual daughter, Carolyn Eddy of Vineyard Haven, Dorrit leaves her first cousins once removed: Dennis Monahan of East Dennis; Terry Monahan Fitzgibbon of Natick; Billy Monahan of Yarmouth; Kathy Monahan Neidhardt of Middlefield, Conn.; Andrea Monahan Harris of Gloucester; Jan Willner Houck of Carson City, Nev.; Jonathan Willner of Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Charles Brecht Stacy II of New York City. She also leaves her first cousin-in-law, Mrs. Robert (Phyllis) Willner of Rickreall, Ore.
A funeral service took place at Grace Episcopal Church, Vineyard Haven, on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, with interment at Oak Grove Cemetery in Tisbury. A reception followed at the church. Donations may be made in Dorrit’s name to a charity of one’s choice. Arrangements were under the care of Chapman, Cole & Gleason Funeral Home, Oak Bluffs.