Southwest Harbor, Maine – Beth Kennedy Pfeiffer, 68, passed away on December 4, 2020 at home in Southwest Harbor surrounded by the love of her husband and family members.
She was born February 13, 1952 in Ventura, California, the daughter of Homer and Elizabeth “Betsey” Reid Pfeiffer. She was raised in Ojai, California where she attended Ojai Valley School. She moved east to attend Wellesley College where she received a B.A. in 1973. She earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1978.
She is survived by her loving husband, John B. Foster, Jr., of Southwest Harbor and Fort Fairfield, ME; son Stuart McNay and his wife Tanya and grandchildren Lexi and Sammy of Providence, RI; son Andrew McNay of Brooklyn, NY; brother George Pfeiffer and his wife Nancy of Sheridan, WY; sister Dorrit Castle and her husband Tom of Stonington, CT; nephew Christopher Castle; nieces Lisa Pfeiffer, Katie Pfeiffer, and Hilary Castle Green; mother-in-law Natalie Foster of Fort Fairfield, ME; and her dearest friend Alison Yada. She was predeceased by her parents.
Beth used her immense artistic talent, business and organizational skills to inspire others to seek beauty and goodness and to live purposeful lives. In 1994, she founded Gamewright, makers of family-oriented card and board games. Beth sold Gamewright in 1999 and went on to pursue a BFA in Printmaking from Wellesley College graduating in 2006. She continued to avidly pursue her love of woodblock printmaking in her studio in Southwest Harbor. In addition to her artistic passion, Beth served on multiple boards including The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Wellesley College, and the Southwest Harbor Public Library. Her magnanimity had wide breadth. Beth was very generous with her time, wisdom, invaluable insight, and ability to problem solve. She was a beloved friend and mentor to many.
Her family is grateful for the loving care and friendship provided by home caregivers Mariea, Kayla, Linda, Kathy, Tammie, and Kindred Hospice nurses Lisa, Michelle, Cathy, and Pam.
Due to COVID-19 guidelines and precautions, Celebration of Life Services will be held in late Spring or early Summer in Southwest Harbor and the greater Boston area. You are invited to visit her Book of Memories at www.wilesrc.com to read her life story and to share your own tributes. The times and places of services will be posted at this site. A memorial video will be available in the near future.
The family suggests that donations in her memory be made to the Southwest Harbor Public Library, 338 Main St., Southwest Harbor, ME 04679.
Cremation and Life Celebration services are being cared for and provided by the Wiles Remembrance Center, 137 Farmington Falls Road, Farmington.
Dear Friends and Family of Beth,
An added life story from Beth's loved one's.......
In August 2018, Beth was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of terminal brain cancer. The diagnosis dealt a horrific blow to Beth, her friends and her family. At the age of sixty-six, Beth was otherwise healthy and active. Following a two and a half year battle with cancer, Beth passed away in her home in Southwest Harbor, Maine on the morning of December 4, 2020. She passed on as the sun rose into the morning sky. She was surrounded by those she loved.
Beth faced her illness as she lived her life: with courage, resolve, and optimism. As Beth’s husband, John, often said about the parts of their daily lives that would bring many of us to our knees, “She is so good.” Beth’s grace and steadfastness as her mobility and sight diminished helped us to more clearly see the preciousness of life. Even within the grim circumstance she had been dealt, she had a tremendous ability to find gratitude in the big and small, serving as an inspiration to those around her.
Beth’s family was the sustaining heartbeat of her life, as she was the heartbeat of the family. Her sons Stuart and Andrew, Stuart’s wife Tanya and their two children Lexi and Sammy; her sister Dorrit and husband Tom and their children Christopher and Hilary; her brother George and wife Nancy and their daughters Katie and Lisa; and her stepdaughters and stepson through her former husband, Joseph McNay, Alice, Kate, Joanna and Colin and all of their families nourished Beth’s soul and gave her great joy as she did for them. Beth valued family and close relationships above all else, and had a gift for bringing people together. Beth’s family welcomed her “Johnny,” and he in turn embraced them and the love they share for his “Bethy." As Beth’s long-time best friend Alison said, we are so grateful to “the universe and God for putting them together.”
Beth was born February 13, 1952 in rural Ojai, California. The following provides a glimpse of Beth’s childhood, in her own words:
The Pfeiffer kids were rather untamed little rapscallions, scampering on horseback up and down sagebrush hillsides, climbing wild oak trees, digging forts under their roots, foraging for snacks of Miner’s lettuce by springtime streams. So much was amazing... but idyllic, not always. Challenges, both economic and emotional, loomed large for us. Our mother was left a single parent when I was 6, and she was faced with the daunting task of raising and supporting 3 kids alone, totally on her own. But my mother, Betsy Reid Pfeiffer, Wellesley class of 1942, was not one to give up…above all she cherished learning, and that gift she set out to impart to us. Come summer, she’d load us 3 kids and the family dog into the station wagon and hit the road, driving solo for 6 straight days on the likes of Route 66 in the pre-interstate years, to get to the coast of Maine where her family spent the summers. We’d sing songs, count license plates and basically try to kill each other on these treks, but in the end, we would be on the rocky, piney coast of Maine for a summer’s respite with her family.
Beth’s love of Maine was a constant in her life. Following her adolescence in California, she felt pulled to the East Coast. She attended Wellesley College, graduating in 1973. Wellesley was to be an institution of great significance to Beth. She would sit on the Board of Trustees from 1997 though 2012, chairing their successful capital campaign. After college, Beth went on to attend Harvard Business School, earning an MBA in 1978. In 1977, Beth married Joe McNay, with whom she had two sons, Stuart and Andrew, and lived in Boston, MA. In 1994, Beth co-founded Gamewright, a company that creates card and board games “to foster laughter, learning, friendship and fun.” In 1999, having produced many hit games, Beth sold Gamewright. The company remains prolific to this day. Beth later returned to Wellesley College as a student of Fine Art, earning an BFA in printmaking in 2006. She avidly pursued drawing, painting and woodblock printmaking for the remainder of her life. In 2012, Beth relocated to Southwest Harbor, Maine, a place she described as her true home. She met John Foster in 2014, and they were married in 2016. Their love burned bright, if for far too short a time. As Beth’s illness progressed, John cared for Beth with compassion, patience and love.
Beth’s love of nature inspired both her art and her active life. She loved skiing, raft trips, biking, hikes, and walks with her beloved dogs over the years: Addie, Gizmo, Blackberry, Juniper, George and the Pfeiffer family’s childhood pooch, Comfort. For Beth, art, and appreciation of the arts, was an integral part of who she was. Whether it was designing the spaces in her homes, making her own prints, ensuring the continuation of the arts for others, or encouraging the music of her niece, Hilary. Beth understood that the arts touch us emotionally. In all of this, Beth had a way of making the beautiful look simple and the simple look beautiful.
Beth had that unique ability to make each one of us feel that we were the most important person in the room. That was as true for those who helped in her house as Rosa did, as it was for those in her business ventures or her social circles. Beth’s respect for and sensitive belief in the value of each person is an example to us all.
Volumes could be filled with tributes to Beth. She touched so many lives as a confidant, advisor and friend. Her accolades are many, as were her charitable donations of time and resources to myriad institutions. In the days following her passing, we heard from many about her deep and far-reaching impact on their lives. We invite all to fill the comment section below with their own tributes to Beth. Following are a handful of reflections to get us started.
John Foster, Husband
Love at 60 is so different than at 20. Knowing pretty much who you are and what you are looking for. Both Beth and I had been divorced for 10 years and had a few relationships over the 10 years but none that would stand the test of time.
I had been out of a relationship for about a week and I was determined not to give up on finding “The Soulmate” I was looking for. Enter Match.com. Lo and behold I came across Beth’s profile. WoW…. Photos of this dancing beauty, her skiing in powder and her playing with her cute little brown dog. The beautiful photos were accompanied by very common sense and touching paragraphs that described the person. Hmmm… could this person be REAL?
Messages were sent followed by emails, phone calls, then cut to the chase…. a meeting for a cup of coffee. I recall exiting my car and saying to myself…. “I cannot believe I am doing this again!” I am so glad I did.
It was a magical two coffee conversation. Two sponges starting to be filled with the baseline facts to see if this meeting was going to lead to meeting #2. It did….. then 3, 4, 5, and so on.
We were perfect for each other. We had our separate lives and our together lives. Oh how I loved going to Boston to touch base with her children, extended McNay family, the Wellesley Beth and the Gardner Museum Beth. So open to get to know all the people Bethy was sharing with me. A wee bit daunting at times, but I was up to it and Bethy was always there by my side. My additions were not quite as numerous, but she loved them. I so enjoyed bringing her to “My Maine”….. Northern Maine, where my family and roots are. Bethy fell in love with my family, they her and she also loved my part of the world.
Then came this horrible disease. Hearing the diagnosis drained the blood from my head. Having had experience with this obscene disease in my past, I knew pretty much what my Dearest Bethy and I were in for. I knew I would love her as hard as I could no matter what.
We took things one day at a time, then one moment at a time. This horrible disease worked its awful self on our dear Bethy piece by piece. All the while she attacked it with the class and grace that is Beth.
My life will never be the same without my dearest Bethy with me. She will always be by my side though. She will always be holding my hand. I will always see her golden smile forever…… I miss her so….
Stuart McNay, Son
You only get one mother. I am ever grateful she was mine. She believed in me early and persistently, when I was not sure about myself. I could never thank her enough for how she made me feel the significance of pursuing my dreams and taught me the tools to succeed.
There were parts of her upbringing and family history, values from her mother, father, and those before, which she knew must be passed to her children. But, there were parts that had been wrong. She pushed with a passion - against inertia - to make those things right in our family. We will strive to honor her by carrying forward what she worked so hard to ingrain in us.
She was vibrant and healthy when her illness began. It hurts to think of ‘what could have been’. My children - her grandkids (Lexi 5yrs and Sammy 3yrs) - got to know a small part of who their “Baba” was. I hope they can grasp her through stories, her artwork, people she has touched, and spaces that she so carefully created.
Tanya, Stuart’s wife:
No words seem fully adequate to describe Beth and what she has meant to us… but I will say she was the best mother-in-law I could have ever asked for. What I find most striking as I read other’s memories of Beth is that each person describes her using the same characteristics: her limitless generosity, her immense gratitude and grace even in the toughest of times, her marked intelligence and can-do attitude, and her unwavering belief in the goodness and potential of each person. These all permeated her daily actions – her uniquely thoughtful and detailed messages, the undivided attention she gave that made you feel she was truly absorbing each thing you said.
Beth always saw the best in me and helped me to believe the best in myself. When I spoke with her, I couldn’t help but feel that anything was possible – with her behind me. Beth could aptly identify what someone might need and was there in a heartbeat to help - whether comforting our infant with a double ear infection when we were too tired to do so ourselves, giving advice on what house to buy or the “right” cushion thickness, or helping to fold laundry, organized by person of course! And she did it with ease and grace, never expecting anything in return. She was a perfect mix of empathizer and then do-er; I often recall having the thought, “everything will be ok” after talking with her. Even in her final days, intuitively sensing unease around her, out of the blue, she said, “don’t worry, we’ll take care of it” as she had said many times before.
Beth’s generosity and passion for creating experiences for others was evident in all she did - whether in the beautiful spaces she designed, planned excursions, or ways in which she gave of herself to others. She created a “home” for so many, both figuratively and literally. Examples are limitless – I can recall our wedding which she helped bring to life, the bar of soap she purchased for each person to use while at the London Olympics and the nightly culinary tour which followed, the goody bags she made to placate passengers who didn’t enjoy a 13-hour plane ride next to a one year old, and the two dozen cookie cutters she brought to make “simple” Christmas cookies with Lexi. She loved our kids, and had so many plans of adventures they could share in the future - Maine summers at Camp Beech Cliff being one. It is hard to think of the future we have lost, but we will try our hardest to carry forward her legacy of love and passion.
Andrew McNay, Son
In my earliest memories, my mother is an amorphous barrier between me and a violent end at the hands of my older brother. She is a yellow-orange amoeba of warmth and protection. As I grow she becomes green. She was hiking trips, adventure and growth. She created games and I was her happy test subject. In high school she became red, we butted heads. This grew to a deep purple of resentment in college, which gave way to the clarity of blue. We understood each other. I see her in every experience, challenging, joyous and mundane. When she lost her sight, she said she missed most the color blue. Now I too miss the color blue.
Dorrit Castle, Sister
The void in my heart is immense with the passing of my dear little sister Bethy. She has always been one of the main constants in my life and I wonder how to face the world without her. Her presence filled our family with love and joy and she was the driving energy behind so much of all of our lives. In time I hope to be able to think of her without a tear in my eye and a heave in my chest. To help sustain me with this overwhelming loss I am so grateful to my family, Tom, Christopher, Hilary and Geoff and their sons, Castle and Wilder; John, Stuart and his family, and Andrew. And also to Bethy’s dear friend of more than 30 years, Alison Yada.
Alison Yada, Friend
There are few words to explain the tremendous loss of my dearest, most sincere best friend, Beth. As I ponder how to navigate a future with her in spirit, I will remain present as this was a request she asked of me just a month after she was diagnosed. Beth and I shared a love of travel, culture, food and nature. Her intrepidness, insatiable curiosity and genuine interest in people led us to travels far and wide where together we combined and met our mutual interests with wonder, wisdom gleaned, gratitude and thankfulness for the fond memories that were built and formed.
I am so grateful to have shared these experiences with Beth and to observe her perspective, her ability to engage and most of all, her innate nature to see the endless possibilities the world has to offer through her non-judgmental lenses. The latter, a philosophy and trait of Beth’s that is a gift to treasure and a touchstone I will forever deeply admire and cherish.