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Lorraine (Nye) Eliot

CORNWALL — Lorraine (Nye) Eliot, 95, a longtime summer resident of Cornwall Bridge, died peacefully March 22, 2011, in Seattle, Wash., after a long, full life.

Lorraine was born in New York City on Sept. 13, 1915, and lived there through her years at New College, which was an experimental precursor to Barnard College. She was the daughter of Helen Mounfortt and Frank Wilson Nye, and the granddaughter of two writer-journalists; Wade Mountfortt, who was an editor for the New York Times, and Bill Nye, who founded the Laramie Bee.

As a junior in college, she taught English in the village of Salin-les-Bains, in the Jura Mountains of France. There she met and married Jean Gaudefroy-Demombynes, a musician, composer, writer and teacher. They survived the German occupation of France in the village of Cosne-sur-Loire with two German soldiers billeted in their home.

Her two children, Doriane Solange and Jean Patrice were born there in 1943 and 1944. Lorraine earned a doctorate in French literature from the Sorbonne, “In my spare time,” as she used to say. Her thesis, La Femme dans L’Oeuvre de Maupassant, was published by Mercure de France in 1943.

After the war, and a year of teaching at the University of Western Ontario, Lorraine returned to New York City, a single mother of two. Seeking relief from the heat of the city, she came across a 100-year-old farmhouse in Cornwall Bridge which became the family summer home.

She took a job with the Central Intelligence Agency in 1953 and advanced rapidly to a position managing American Friends of the Middle East until it was exposed by a Ramparts Magazine article in 1976. She retired from the CIA with one of the highest ranks any woman had achieved at that time.

Lorraine moved full time to Cornwall Bridge where she became involved in the community by joining the United Church of Christ Congregational and writing articles on local artists for The Lakeville Journal.

She married her former boss, Mather Eliot, in 1988. On a trip to Rome she happened across “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin, which led to a fascination with the writer and ultimately to writing her biography, “The Real Kate Chopin,” which was published in 2002. She clearly identified with Kate Chopin and the strong- willed and fiercely independent women in her work.

Lorraine and Mather spent their last years at University House in Seattle. She is survived by her daughter, Doriane Demombynes Tippett of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.; her son, Patrice Gaudefroy-Demombynes of Seattle; her grandchildren, Justin, Gabriel, Jolie, Brett, Jasper and Roland; and seven great-grandchildren who knew her as “Nou-Nou.”

A memorial gathering to celebrate her life will be held in Cornwall Bridge sometime in the spring.