Edith Chilewich Exton, longtime Vineyard seasonal resident, died Nov. 1 in Cambridge after a long illness.
The Russian-born editor and writer and widow of Jack Exton was 92.
Edith first came to West Tisbury in 1950 for a weekend at Green’s Farm. From then until 2008 she regularly brought her growing family to Chilmark, then Lambert’s Cove, settling down in the early 1960s in Vineyard Haven. An avid gardener, Edith opened her house and gardens to at least three generations of family, old and new friends, and young and seasoned writers. Edith was active in the early creation of the Nathan Mayhew Seminars, and an enthusiastic supporter of the Vineyard Playhouse, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Martha’s Vineyard Hospice.
Edith and her parents came to the U.S. in 1939, ostensibly to attend the World’s Fair. During World War II she worked for CBS News as a monitor and interpreter of shortwave broadcasts from the Soviet and east European fronts, using languages learned as a child refugee from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
When the war ended, Edith returned to Europe in 1946 as a journalist, visiting sites and peoples remembered from childhood and to write her first book, Continent in Limbo (Reynal and Hitchcock, 1947). Though her career took her in other directions, writing remained a serious passion, especially during her times on the Vineyard.
Settling in New Haven in the 1950s, Edith developed a radio and, later, television program, Yale Reports, on which successive Yale administrators, professors, visiting scholars, artists and musicians were invited to discuss their academic projects and research for a general public not then accustomed to informal access to private university faculties.
Edith returned to New York in the 1960s to become editor of Atlas Magazine, a newsweekly publishing articles about current affairs translated from foreign periodicals. There, too, she engaged in supporting the arts — especially new and upcoming talents. She also rallied support for education for social justice and for medical research.
Survivors include her daughter, Claudia Kerr Grose and husband Peter Grose; son, Chester Brooks Kerr, jazz pianist and disciple/historian of Duke Ellington, who offered formal and spontaneous performances in various Vineyard venues; three stepsons, John, Philip and Alexander Kerr, who with their families, remain Vineyard devotees; two granddaughters, Carolyn Grose and Kim Grose Moore, and three great-grandchildren, Bronia and Ari Bogen Grose and Magdalena Moore, who, though far away, still think of the Vineyard as another special home.
A private family memorial will be held on the Vineyard in late spring. Gifts in Edith’s memory may be made to the Schepens Eye Research Institute, Development Office, Mass. Eye and Ear, 243 Charles street, Boston, MA 02114, or email Melanie_Saunders@meei.harvard.edu. They may also be sent to Manhattan Country School, 7 East 96th street, New York, N.Y. 10128, or online manhattancountryschool.org. They may be sent to the Vineyard Playhouse, attention donations, P.O. Box 2452, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.