Eileen Mary Stief died on December 19, 2022 at White Horse Village in Newtown Square. She was 90.
The daughter of Eleanor and Joseph Gallagher and the eldest of six siblings, Eileen grew up in the Roxborough and Manayunk sections of Philadelphia, graduating from the former Cecilian Academy in 1950, after which she earned her BA from Temple University, and later in life her MA from Villanova University.
She started her professional life working at The Philadelphia Inquirer, but her calling was in conflict resolution, which she came to through her work with Friends Suburban Project and other Quaker-affiliated organizations. Influenced by a strong belief in the power of peace and nonviolence, she became a mediator, focusing initially on neighborhood disputes and later moving into school-based mediation. Her skills in the field led her become a prolific trainer of new mediators. Working with Friends Conflict Resolution Programs, she developed a well-known mediator training course, and ultimately co-authored The Mediator’s Handbook with her friend and collaborator, Jennifer Beer. First published in 1982, it became a leading text for mediation training and continues in an updated Fourth Edition by Ms. Beer. Eileen also co-authored FCRP’s School Mediation Trainer’s Manual, and many training materials. Later, her work evolved into a focus on environmental and land-use conflict resolution through PennACCORD, a non-profit in which she partnered with long-time friend and fellow Swarthmorean Wendy Emrich.
Together with her husband Jack Stief, she raised four children in Swarthmore, and loved spending time with her seven grandchildren. Beyond her family and her work, Eileen had three great loves in her life.
She had a wide ranging intellectual curiosity, but above all was a lover of language. Able to recite favorite poetry from memory, she had a particular love of the alliterative bits, and tended to punctuate more mundane conversation with well-chosen poetic phrases. It was rarely just “time to go to bed,” so much as “[t]he time has come the Walrus said, to talk of many things….” Eileen was an avid crossword puzzle solver and mischievous Scrabble competitor who was not above trying to slip a made-up word past her opponents, most memorably an “Oq,” alleged (unsuccessfully) to be a furry beast native to the foothills of the Himalayas that fed on wild parsley.
That the fictional word was a furry beast was no accident. Animals were Eileen’s other great love of her life. As much as she thrived and made her living in communication, she unwaveringly asserted that she liked animals better than people. That meant there was a never-ending stream of animals arriving in her home year after year through various routes, rarely arriving as pups or kittens, but rather mid-life adoptees of no certain breed, most of which (though by no means all) turned out to be great pets. It generally was a mandatory minimum of five animals in her house, with the majority rotating between cats and dogs. She also became a docent at the Philadelphia Zoo, peppering her day-to-day conversation with a liberal supply of increasingly obscure animal references as she took docent classes and studied to qualify. Later in her life, as Parkinson’s made life more difficult and limited her ability to care for pets, great joy was delivered to her by the PAWS for People program, through which retired minister Lynne Lampman and her amazing Golden Retriever Luna made regular visits to Eileen at Plush Mills and later at White Horse. Eileen loved all dogs, but Goldens were more equal than others.
Her third great love was the arts. She was proud to have become a docent at the Brandywine River Museum, but her favorite of the arts was dance. Eileen fell in love with ballet as a child and stayed with it her whole life. She was a supporter of the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Brandywine Ballet Company, and continued to dance and take classes throughout her life. After her diagnosis, Eileen was pleased to find Dance for Parkinson’s Disease, discovering that her love of dance could help delay the effect of the disease on her balance and mobility.
Parkinson’s turned out to be a cruel trick for Eileen, slowly eroding her ability to communicate. But she appreciated and developed strong relationships with many of her kind and patient caregivers at Friends Life Care, Plush Mills and White Horse. Even as her verbal abilities faded, she remained quick with a smile and her eyes could sparkle. Toward the end, her failing body gave her one little treat. Known all her life for her curly hair, which her high school yearbook quips described as a “saucy haircut,” she was openly covetous of her daughter’s and granddaughters’ long brown hair. But in her final year of life, her hair decided to grow straight, giving her a few months of long silver hair that her caregivers even put into a pony tail some days.
Eileen is survived by her four children, Tiernan Lavena Campbell of Philadelphia, Gavin Stief of Swarthmore, Chris Stief (Hally) of Swarthmore, and Deirdre Blackburn (Adam) of Frenchtown, New Jersey; her daughter-in-law MaryAnne Stief of Drexel Hill; her brother Andrew Gallagher of Belair, Maryland and sister Jeannie (Joseph) of Drexel Hill; seven grandchildren; and four great grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband, John Stief, in 1997; and by her siblings Joe, Alysanne and Condy.
Her wit, wisdom, love, care and humor will be missed by many, most especially her children and her grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church on January 2, 2023 at 1:00 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to PAWS for People, PO Box 9955, Newark, DE 19714.