LITTLE DEER ISLE – Evelyn Offutt, 94, died Sept. 20, 2012, at her home after a brief illness. Evelyn Charlotte Somers was born to Avis Cloudman of Gorham and Fredrick Grant Somers, in Fred’s hometown of Atlantic City, N.J. Her birth followed the death of her brother, Fredrick, in infancy.
Evelyn started life as an only child, and ended life as the matriarch of a large clan. She made people she met feel like friends, and she made her friends feel like family. Her parents divorced when she was young. Fred, a professional athlete, moved to California and made a new life as an actor. Evelyn never saw him again, but corresponded with him until his death. Avis, a gifted milliner, went to live and work with her sister, Dorothy, who founded Dorothy Gray Cosmetics. The sisters in essence became Evelyn’s parental unit, and Evelyn’s disposition in life hinged on whether the sisters were getting along or estranged. Evelyn’s privileged life in Dorothy’s household was turned upside down when she was placed in a series of boarding schools throughout her growing up. First was the Italian Convent of the Sacred Heart followed by the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament, New York City. When her mother moved to France to study piano, Evelyn was placed variously at the Cours Dupanloup, Ecole Barrat and Lycee Victor Duruy, Paris. She returned to the U.S. to attend Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City, and Amenia High School in New York state, then Le College Feminin de Bouffemont in France and finally Wychwood School in New Jersey. She attended one year of Wells College before leaving to join Aunt Dorothy on a trip to Africa. She was 19 when they toured Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, and shot large game during a two-month safari in British East Africa, now Kenya, with famed safari guide Don Ker. Evelyn returned to Paris, where she studied art at the Ecole Paul Colin, learned oil painting from the artist Max Chotiau and took classes at the Sorbonne. Evelyn lived with her mom and stepfather, George Vendrin, in Bievres, just south of Paris, when the Nazis invaded in June 1940. They were among millions in the Paris Exodus. After a month making their way south into Spain and then Portugal, she and her mother succeeded in finding safe passage to the U.S. Evelyn’s experiences as a war refugee, as well as her travels in Africa are chronicled in unpublished memoirs. Back in the U.S., they recuperated at her Uncle Bert Cloudman’s farm in New York state. Evelyn then found work in Hartford, Conn. In 1942 she and her mother relocated to the Washington, D.C., area and were joined by her stepfather. She worked as research analyst for the War Department and then the Office of Strategic Services at the newly opened Pentagon. She ran “The Washington Locator,” which re-united families and soldiers separated by war. Evelyn not only spoke fluent French, but learned usable amounts of Swahili, Spanish, Italian and German in the course of her studies and travels. She learned to read and write Arabic. Her travel to foreign lands sea included several Atlantic crossings and a trip through Panama Canal as a child. She met Groucho Marx and Albert Einstein in Palm Springs, Calif., while on still another fabulous trip with her Aunt Dorothy. She visited countries all over the world, many of them during her second marriage. Evelyn lived six decades in Arlington, Va. She regularly played tennis and oil painted for all of those years. She was a longtime member of the Northern Virginia Art League and was involved in the founding of the Torpedo Factory Art Center, Alexandria, Va., in 1974. In later years she wintered at her condo at the Naples (Fla.) Bath and Tennis Club. Evelyn married twice, first to Alec Kritini and later to Thomas J. Offutt Sr.
Her children and their spouses are Chantal and Frank Dukette of Crownsville, Md., Mary Offutt and Brian Clough of Little Deer Isle and Tony and Carol Offutt of Arlington, Va.; stepdaughter, Anne Miller and husband, David, of Florida; and daughter-in-law, Elaine Offutt. Evelyn’s husband, founder of Dittmar Co. in Virginia, died in 1986. Her stepson, Tom Offutt Jr. died in 2010. Evelyn had the great pleasure to welcome her newest great-grandson, AJ, this year. Grandchildren are Chant’s children, Andrea and Nina Paradiso, Mary’s children, Hendrik and Erik Lenferink, Tony’s children, Gwen Roundy, James, Diana Stropko, Jeffrey, Hannah and Joseph; Tom Jr.’s children, Cindy Wasyln, Tom Offutt III and Edith Williams; and Anne Calla’s children, John Urquhart, Laura White, Ted Urquhart, Julie Kolski Kuzo and Andrea Oswald. She leaves numerous great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Other family include all the spouses, ex-spouses and many bonus grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her first husband’s daughters, Susie Brown and Claudia Baxter and families were also welcomed into her circle. These last five years, Evelyn has lived year-round in Little Deer Isle near her daughter, Mary, where she enjoyed the sea and the sky and was a patron of the arts. Her independence was facilitated by the tender loving care of Nancy Wynne, Pauline Haskell, Tiffany Dauk, Josephine Jacob, Lori Connor, Vicki Landry and Alison Bramham, and their families. Although she didn’t know it when she moved to Maine, Evelyn was a descendant of the Greenlaws, one of Deer Isle’s founding families.
A funeral service will take place 11 a.m. Sept. 29 at St. Agnes Catholic Church, Arlington, Va. A local memorial service will be held 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, at Sargentville Chapel, Sedgwick. Memorial gifts may be sent to Maine Community Foundation, 245 Main St., Ellsworth, ME 04605.