Harriet Hart Sayre Was Wise, Graceful Person

Harriet Hart Sayre of Vineyard Haven died Sept. 6, at the age of 82, of cancer, at the home of her daughter in Durham, N.C.

She was born July 4, 1921, in a camp at Little Moose Lake in the Adirondacks of New York, the daughter of the late Admiral and Mrs. Thomas C. Hart and the granddaughter of Admiral and Mrs. Willard H. Brownson.

She was graduated from Vassar College with a degree in history in 1944. She lived with her family in China for the year 1939 while her father commanded the Asiatic Fleet. During World War II and prior to her marriage, she worked for the OSS in Washington, D.C., where she was involved in research into the feasibility of a Manchurian army.

She was married for 57 years to the very Rev. Francis B. Sayre, retired Dean of Washington National Cathedral. They lived in Washington for the duration of her husband's career at the Cathedral, and a few years post-retirement, between 1952 and 1980.

A woman of intelligence, deep wisdom and extraordinary grace, she took seriously her role in furthering the growth and mission of the National Cathedral. She traveled abroad with her husband to oversee refugee work and seek out artists in stained glass and stone, and she provided a gracious and interesting dinner table for all of the Cathedral's guests, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Archbishops, Supreme Court Justices and artists including Dave Brubeck and José Limon. She enjoyed the controversy surrounding the social issues of the 1960s and '70s and did her part to break down the barriers dividing race and gender. She was an accomplished hostess, whether at breakfast at the Tidal Basin under the blooming cherry trees before school, picnics while fishing or on the beach at sunset, elegant dinners for the leading lights of the land, or engaging the Cathedral's merry-go-round to revolve slowly in the back yard for her daughter's debutante party. Coming from an athletic and competitive family, she embraced, bright-eyed, sports, games, exploring the outdoors and rough and tumble with her children.

She was an active volunteer with the YWCA for two decades. A Board member of the D.C. branch (later the YWCA of the National Capitol Area) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She especially worked with the YWCA International Fair, a yearly event involving hundreds of people, community leaders and the diplomatic corps. This was for many years coupled with a YWCA ceremony at Washington Cathedral, where Y-Teens from all over the USA and young women from the embassies representing countries where the YWCA was at work came in procession to offer the funds they had raised for YW work in those countries. Harriet also worked with her mother in law, Mrs. Francis B. Sayre Sr. toward the gift of one of the stained-glass windows in the Cathedral, representing the world work of the YWCA.

She volunteered for several years at the City Hall Complaint Center, where she served as an ombudsman to cut through bureaucratic tangles to callers with troubles. She also volunteered as a guide at the National Cathedral, and at an ecumenical home for unwed mothers in Washington.

After retirement to Massachusetts, she was active in Martha's Vineyard Community Services, an umbrella organization for social service agencies serving the Island. A member of the board of directors for five years, she chaired the board for two years, shepherding the organization through fiscal crises brought on by funding cutbacks under the Reagan administration. She co-founded the Possible Dreams Auction and served as auction committee chairman from 1979 to 1982; the event has raised nearly $4 million for Community Services in the 25 years of its existence. After retiring from the board, she took the agency's languishing Thrift Shop and turned it into a vibrant volunteer-run store that serves the Island and raises significant funds for Community Services coffers.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by four children, Jessie Sayre Maeck of Lexington, Thomas Hart Sayre of Raleigh, N.C., Harriet (Happy) Sayre-McCord of Durham, N.C., and F. Nevin Sayre of Falmouth, all married, and eight grandchildren (two each); two sisters, Caroline Hart (Mrs. Dana R.) Bergh of Portola Valley, Calif., and Isabella Hart (Mrs. LaVerne) Baldwin, of Taconic Conn., both widowed. She was predeceased by two brothers, Roswell Hart of Sharon Conn., and Thomas Hart, U.S. Navy.

Funeral services and and interment will be in the Bethlehem Chapel of the Washington National Cathedral at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13. A memorial service will be held at a later date at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven. Gifts in her memory in lieu of flowers may be made to Martha's Vineyard Community Services, c/o Jan Hatchard, Director of Development, P.O. Box 369, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.