After a long, rewarding, and generous life, Frances Avirgan passed away peacefully on the morning of March 23, 2020 at Ferncliff Nursing Home in Rhinebeck, NY. She was 104 years old. She remained mentally alert to the end, cast her absentee ballot last week, and died when her lungs gave out. As she told family members the day before, she had had a good life, was feeling happy, and was ready to let go. Her son Tony and daughter-in-law Martha Honey are extremely grateful that the staff at Ferncliff allowed them to be with Fran on her final day, even though the nursing home is on lockdown to keep out the coronavirus.
Fran was the dearly beloved matriarch of the Avirgan-Honey family, including, in addition to Tony and Martha, her grandchildren Shanti, Jody, and Deta, her great-grandchildren Amani and Nola Frances (named after her), and her extended family Katie, Kabir, Margaret, Tim, Debra, Susan, Ismail, John, Kristen, Ryan, Amy, Nyala, James, and Cole. She had survived in life her husband Jerry, her eldest son Steve, and her brother Aaron. Fran also had a wide circle of friends across many generations and several countries whom she warmly and generously embraced as family – and many of whom called her simply Nana Fran.
Fran was born December 27, 1915 in Philadelphia, PA, the daughter of Russian and French Jewish immigrants. She attended the prestigious Philadelphia High School for Girls and was married and raised her family in Philadelphia. In the 1960’s, Fran and her friend Yetta founded a consumer-research business which ended up hiring many of the cash-strapped anti-war activists in Philadelphia (including Tony and Martha).
Though a life-long skeptic of organized religion, she was influenced by Jewish traditions and Quaker values. Fran had deep social and moral principles which grounded her as a life-long Democrat in the FDR school and guided her involvement in many political causes and community activities. She was, above all, a peace maker, listening to family and friends with an open mind, resolving problems, and seeking common ground. And, as Tim Honey put it, “Fran brought out the best in each of us.”
Fran’s life expanded beyond Philadelphia in the 1970s when Tony and Martha moved to Tanzania for a decade. Fran and Jerry visited often, bringing Philadelphia hoagies, baby clothes, VHS tapes of Mel Brooks movies, and other essentials. Fran and Jerry cherished the births and early years of their grandchildren, Shanti and Jody, and the integration of Deta into our family. In the 1980s, following Jerry’s death, Fran moved to Costa Rica where Tony and his family settled for another decade. She built her own house, had a strong network of friends, and was active in helping to raise her grandchildren and in the local Peace Center. In the early 1990s, Fran moved to Rhinebeck, finding a home and a deep friendship with Roberta (Robbie) Schiff on South Street, next door to Martha’s parents, John and Mary Honey. For a decade, Fran, John, and Mary were a three-some, sharing meals together, helping to launch the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, participating in Democratic politics, and enjoying concerts and other activities at Bard College. Fran also volunteered for 18 years at the Starr Library and served as Chair of Friends of the Library. Several years ago, Fran and her family donated the butterfly bench that sits near the entrance to the Starr Library.
For much of the last decade, Fran lived in Maryland, near Tony and Martha. Last November, she moved back to Rhinebeck, together with Tony and Martha. She was so happy to once again be in Rhinebeck and was able to celebrate her 104th birthday in late December at a party hosted by Robbie Schiff and attended by some 50 dear friends and family members.
Fran loved knitting, reading, crossword puzzles, baking with and eating chocolate, listening to classical and folk music, and eating Maryland blue crabs and Maine lobster. Even into her 100s, she orchestrated the production of Thanksgiving and Christmas family feasts. And as late as the age 103, Fran was knitting hats that were being sold at an upscale children’s store in Bethesda, MD and was turning out several hats, scarves, and sweaters per week from friends and family.
In addition to Philadelphia, Tanzania, Costa Rica, and Rhinebeck, Fran especially cherished the idyllic summer holidays spent with the family on Long Island, Maine where Tim and Debra have a beautiful summer home.
Fran’s passing leaves an empty space in our lives and our hearts. She will always be lovingly and joyfully remembered.
The family plans to hold a memorial service for Fran in Rhinebeck – after the world rights itself and we can once again join together in person. Burial arrangements are being handled by the Dapson-Chestney Funeral Home, 51 West Market Street, Rhinebeck, NY 12572.
At Fran's request, donations in her name can be sent to either of these organizations which she loved and worked with.
Donations to the Starr Library are tax deductible.
Starr Library Rhinebeck Farmers’ Market Scholarship Fund
68 West Market Street P.O. Box 431
Rhinebeck, New York 12572 Rhinebeck, New York 12572
68 West Market Street, Rhinebeck NY 12572
Rhinebeck Farmer's Market Scholarship Fund
PO Box 431, Rhinebeck NY 12572