Peter Cavanaugh


She left us as we knew her - softly, sweetly, elegantly gone - with awesome dignity and uncommon grace.

It wasn’t long after Eileen and I moved to Oakhurst nine years ago that we became acquainted with Eleanor Schermerhorn. This person was writing “Letters to the Editor” published in both The Sierra Star and Fresno Bee all the time - wonderful summations I found extraordinarily well presented with marvelous attention to detail, brilliantly focused and comfortably resonant with my own personal perspectives.

Shortly after submitting my own letter to the Star, Ms. Schermerhorn - then a complete stranger - sent me a note of confirmation and encouragement, including a list of additional reference sources and a suggestion that I consider attending the next meeting of The Oakhurst Democratic Club.

I had already heard of this wild bunch from a gentleman named Scott Hill whom I had met by chance a short time before, so we were there at the Ol’ Kettle that following Saturday and happily discovered an active, progressive, friendly group of folks up here in the foothills deeply involved in community activities and vibrantly attuned to issues of the day. We also learned that Scott was married to Ellie, who turned out to be considerably younger than my initial suspicions and surely much prettier than Scott.

For much of my life I was unaffiliated with any one political party, primarily because my broadcast career suggested a position of balanced neutrality was the wisest professional option. I privately cast my ballot for the person running for office more than his or her party or platform.

There really wasn’t a lot of major difference between Democrats and Republicans in the immediate aftermath of World War II and the decades that immediately followed. Bless me Father, but I voted for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, right along with John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton.

But our move to Oakhurst coincided with what I perceived to be an alarming rightward drift in American politics. These are different days. Simply stated, I believe genuine concern for others should take ultimate precedence over individualized self-interest. In caring and sharing, we find connection, unity and purpose.

Ellie Schermerhorn never had to preach this. She lived it with unwavering commitment, steadfast loyalty, exemplary dedication and, as a licensed Certified Public Accountant, astounding attention to detail.

Along with being a founding member of the Oakhurst Democratic Club, Ellie was also enthusiastically engaged with Mountain Community Women, the Sierra Historic Sites Association, La Sierra Guild for Valley Children’s Hospital and, Patriots kindly note, the Sierra Foothills Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Sharing her first name with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first lady, Ellie was particularly proud of the Democratic Club’s annual Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Awards with annual scholarships provided to competing Yosemite High School graduates.

A highlight of her great success in lining up monthly speakers came in August of 2010 after she wrote Debra Bowen requesting that someone join us in Oakhurst from the California Secretary of State’s office to discuss changes in voting laws. Ellie ended up landing Secretary Bowen, herself. We moved over to the community center for that meeting.

Having been diagnosed with breast cancer many years ago and having enjoyed a period of remission that became all too brief, Ellie faced the end with incredible courage and an awesome will.

Her loving concern for others never ceased. In our final time together, attending an executive committee meeting only days before she passed and reflecting on our acute awareness of her plight, she gently whispered to me in that last moment before we parted ... “I hope I’m not scary.”

Words failed me - all transcended - as I hugged her goodbye.