Anne Stillman, president of the Bird Homestead and Meeting House Conservancy in Rye, N.Y., died recently at the age of 72. She had been in treatment for multiple myeloma for almost ten years.
Right up until her death, she remained active with the nonprofit organization, which under her leadership won a New York State Award of Distinction in the category of Community Engagement for the William Voris Archaeological Site Excavation on the grounds of the Meeting House.
Ms. Stillman worked in historic preservation and educational programming for many years, having chosen a new path for herself in the 1990s after an earlier career as an entrepreneur and fashion designer.
She was born on April 15, 1951, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where her father, Edmund Stillman, was posted in the U.S. diplomatic service. The family returned to New York when Anne was a year old, living for a time with her paternal grandparents in Brooklyn before moving to Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
When Anne was four years old, the family moved to Adelaide Street in Rye.
As a student at Midland School, she was very active in the theatrical productions of Shakespeare and ancient Greek plays organized and directed by teacher Albert Cullum. She starred in several of these productions, notably as Lady Macbeth and Antigone, and performed in many more.
“The experience was important and formative for her,” said her family. “Anne was one of the participants featured in a PBS broadcast about the program, with actor Roddy McDowall, in the early 1960s, as well as in a 2005 documentary about it, ‘A Touch of Greatness’, which was broadcast on PBS in the Independent Lens series. During interviews for the documentary, Anne reconnected with some of the childhood friends she made in the Midland program, and they remained her dear friends for the rest of her life.”
She attended Rye Country Day School for one year before the family moved to Redding, Conn., in 1964. There she attended Joel Barlow High School before being admitted to Barnard College after her junior year in high school. After earning an undergraduate degree in Art History from Barnard in 1972, she worked in various jobs, including women’s retail, for the next several years before founding the fashion design label Sofia & Anne in the late 1970s.
The label was successful, often featured in Women’s Wear Daily, and carried in high-end stores including Bendel’s and Barney’s. Anne and her partner, Sofia Okolowicz, designed the line of simple, elegant knitwear manufactured in a factory in Bethel, Conn., and marketed out of a showroom in the Garment District in New York City. In the early 1990s, the two partners closed the business and went their separate ways.
Ms. Stillman then pursued her interest in historic preservation. She worked for the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and then the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For the latter, she wrote a publication on the effect of drugstore chains on the demise of historic buildings in downtowns throughout the country. She was also a champion of preserving threatened historic buildings, organizing activists and applying for and securing grants.
In the mid-2000s, Ms. Stillman served as the executive director of the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, overseeing the restoration of the Jay Mansion and running public programs, such as a guest talk by author Ron Chernow shortly after the publication of his biography of Alexander Hamilton.
After leaving the Jay Center, she spearheaded a drive in Rye and formed the nonprofit Committee to Save the Bird Homestead. The Greek Revival house and outbuildings on Milton Road were previously home to the Bird family, which included renowned scientists Henry, an entomologist, and his sons, Roland and Junius, a paleontologist and archeologist, respectively, and his daughters, Alice Bird Erikson and Doris Bird. Doris Bird served as Rye’s children’s librarian for more than forty years. The committee raised funds and purchased the Bird property, and later expanded to purchase the Friends Meeting House next door to it.
The mission of the nonprofit organization, which was renamed the Bird Homestead and Meeting House Conservancy, was to restore the historic buildings, safeguard the habitat for shore birds and aquatic life, provide educational programming for the public, and inspire and foster scientific curiosity.
Her commitment to the organization was a labor of love. The work was very important to her, as were the friends and colleagues who accomplished it with her.
In addition to her two siblings, Dorothea Stillman Halliday and James A. G. Stillman, she is survived by her three nephews, Nicholas Stillman Halliday, John Stillman Halliday, and Hunter James Stillman. Her father predeceased her in 1983, and her mother, Mary Gwathmey Stillman, who had served on the Rye City School Board in the early 1960s, died in 2020.
The family asks that all who wish to honor Anne Stillman make a donation in her name to the Committee to Save the Bird Homestead, Inc.