Obituary: Emilie Sylvester Staisey / State senator's widow, worked for Easter Seals

Aug. 6, 1920-June 22, 2014

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Emilie Sylvester Staisey, an occupational therapist for 14 years with Easter Seals of Western Pennsylvania and a gracious volunteer genealogist at the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society, died at age 93 in Eagle Rock, Calif., on June 22.

Mrs. Staisey, who lived more than half her life in the Monongahela Valley community of Duquesne, was the widow of Leonard C. Staisey, a state senator, influential chairman of the Allegheny County commissioners and later a judge in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. He died in October 1990.  

Born in Germantown, a neighborhood six miles northwest of downtown Philadelphia, Mrs. Staisey ‍had a Quaker upbringing. She graduated from Friends Central School and attended Swarthmore College before obtaining her degree in occupational therapy from the University of Pennsylvania  in the late 1930s or early 1940s, said her daughter, Nancy Staisey, of Lewes, Del.

Mrs. Staisey was employed as an occupational therapist in Chicago when she met her future husband while riding in an elevator. Both were en route to a party at the Lake Shore Athletic Club.

“He began chatting with her. He said to his friend, ’‍Now that‘‍s a woman I’‍d like to marry,’‍ “ Nancy Staisey recalled, adding that her parents married in 1944 and moved to Duquesne, her father‘‍s hometown.

Surgery on a brain tumor had left Mr. Staisey blind from boyhood.  

”My father was blind from the time he was 6. In the 1940s, for a young woman to marry a blind man was quite amazing. She only saw his abilities, not the disabilities. She enabled him, but she certainly didn‘‍t coddle him,“ Nancy Staisey said.

After raising two daughters, Mrs. Staisey returned to work as an occupational therapist, joining the staff of Easter Seals in 1971 and retiring in 1985. She also was a regular volunteer genealogist with the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society, an activity she continued in retirement.

She also loved to do needlework. After smoke from a major fire in December 1990 ruined kneelers at St. Stephen’‍s Episcopal Church in McKeesport, she was one of several women who stitched new needlepoint covers for the kneelers.

“It was really an act of great patience. It took months,” Nancy Staisey said.

Her mother, she added, did not like to leave anything unfinished and regularly completed the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. 

By the year 2000, Mrs. Staisey had moved to Maxxon Towers in Squirrel Hill. Then, she accompanied Nancy, an IBM executive, to a work-related posting in Zurich, Switzerland for two years. She spent another five years with her daughter and son-in-law in in London, England. When her health began to fail, she moved to California, to be close to another daughter, Consuelo Woodhead of Pasadena.

Besides her daughters, Mrs. Staisey is survived by one brother, William Sylvester of Bloomington, Ind.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. today in St. Stephen‘‍s Episcopal Church, 220 8th St., McKeesport. Interment will follow in Jefferson Memorial Park. The family requests memorial contributions to Easter Seal Society of Western Pennsylvania, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, Pittsburgh Vision Services or any agency that helps disabled people.


Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.

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