Isabelle Sayen, 79, Was Longtime Peace Activist
Isabelle Sayen, a longtime Chilmark resident, died peacefully at home from cancer on Michaelmas Day, Sept. 29, at the age of 79. In the summers during World War II, Mrs. Sayen had often resided with her mother on South Water street in Edgartown. She was a cousin of the late Mrs. Henry Beetle Hough.
She was graduated from Miss Fine's School in Princeton and from Vassar in 1945. In 1946, she married the late Hon. William Henry (Harry) Sayen 4th (Princeton 1943). Harry, who came from a prominent public service family, was one of New Jersey's most influential citizens during the past 35 years. He was chairman of the board of trustees of the British-American Educational Foundation, governor of the board of Rutgers University, trustee of both the New Jersey State Museum and the New Jersey Opera, and held many other positions with national museum, environmental and regional plan boards. He wrote columns for the Vineyard Gazette and for other newspapers and journals for many years.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Sayen were active for 30 years on ecological and environmental matters and in organizations relating to the Vineyard and its natural preservation. During their time in Chilmark each March, April and May, September, October and November, they researched their contributions to the Island.
Mrs. Sayen, originally a teacher, became interested in plate tectonics and global impact environmental issues in the 1950s. In the 1960s, she became active in the peace movement and organized numerous events throughout the East Coast in opposition to the Vietnam War. Mrs. Sayen was frequently invited to Washington, D.C., by Congress to discuss issues. Thereafter, she became a full-time environmentalist. From 1970 to 1994, she was a founder and operator of the New Jersey Safe Energy Alternative Alliance. In 1978, she was a founder of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament, and in that capacity lobbied Congress to reduce weaponry and to limit waste disposal of nuclear material.
Blinded by macular degeneration 18 years ago, she continued work unassisted, and would often testify at hearings in Newark, Trenton, Philadelphia, Boston and the Capitol, always arriving by public transport. Mrs. Sayen went on to found the Coalition for Peace Action. During the coalition's distinguished history, Mrs. Sayen invited many renowned humanitarian, spiritual and world leaders to the annual conferences. The present director, the Rev. Robert Moore, called Isabelle "fearless in acting on her convictions; she advanced the causes of global disarmament and world peace."
Wanting to be well researched and balanced in new proposals, she enrolled in dozens of courses at Princeton University over a 40-year period. She studied physics, art history and philosophy, as well as graduate courses in politics at the Woodrow Wilson School and engineering courses at the engineering school.
Mrs. Sayen assisted her husband in many of his activities, often with concepts for his weekly radio broadcasts, and with his journalistic columns. In that endeavor, she entertained many U.S. presidential candidates who were seeking public awareness. It was during this period of their lives together that the eminent New Yorker cartoonist Henry Martin rendered their personalities and accomplishments in that national weekly.
Mrs. Sayen's life and contributions to world peace were celebrated at an interfaith service in her memory at Princeton University Chapel on Nov. 9, attended by hundreds of colleagues, friends and family. At that service, she was described by Bishop Belshaw as "an inspiration to many everywhere for her peace activism."
The guest speaker was the recent Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, who blessed her afterwards, calling Isabelle "a woman of compassion, who stood her ground. She was in advance of her time and led a life which demonstrated goodness can be steadfast over prevailing views, a woman who made a difference."
Also dedicated in her memory was the International Congress and 24th annual conference of the Coalition for Peace Action, attended by religious and government leaders and faculty at Princeton University over three days, Nov. 7 to 9.
Mr. and Mrs. Sayen's property, below Abel's Hill, was noted for the thousands of varieties of daffodils they planted over several decades, which cascaded from the house down toward Chilmark Pond.
She is survived by four sons.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Coalition for Peace Action Education Fund, 40 Witherspoon street, Princeton, NJ 08540.