Emily Connery | 1926-2016
Emily Connery’s creative and caring spirit will always be part of island memories. She was optimistic in her attitude, filled her life with diverse pursuits, and always greeted others with a wonderful warm smile. She was a talented fabric artist, entering quilts in the county fair and was one of the first to create “wearable art” — vests and jackets — a new concept at the time. She loved classical music and played the flute with the chamber music ensemble under director, Andor Toth, and later organized housing for guest artists during their performance weekends. Dogs were always part of her life and she was a supporter of our island’s animal shelter. Many individuals on the island were deeply grateful for her compassion and her generosity.
Emily was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 2, 1926. She went to the Putney School in Vermont, and was an avid skier and sailor. She lived for many years in California before moving to San Juan Island in 1987. In 2014, she wrote a book, Educating Emily, about those California years. In the 1960s, she was a teacher at a nursery school. This experience caused her to think about the variations in behavior she observed and she credits these 4-year-old children for motivating her to return to college where she received a B.A. in Psychology in 1967 at Long Beach State.
After finishing her degree, she became a substitute teacher in the Watts area of Los Angeles, where she experienced education in a variety of school districts in impoverished areas. She observed that even in low-income schools, the principal was key to the atmosphere and thus the education students received. In late 1967, Emily was admitted to the UCLA School of Social Welfare with a scholarship and stipend for living expenses. In her words, she was “ecstatic” for the opportunity to pursue her goals and take care of her two daughters, Tia and Debby.
Her graduate school studies included working with pregnant mothers in the California State Department of Adoptions and in a private clinic for children and families. After finishing her M.S.W. as a clinical social worker, she worked in a mental health clinic in the Compton-Watts area of Los Angeles, at the Long Beach Neuropsychiatric Institute working with families and their severe problems, and with alcoholics at a Naval base in Long Beach.
Then, in 1974, at an orchestra rehearsal, she had barely enough strength to hold her flute to her mouth. What followed was a year of fighting a devastating staph infection in her spine which resulted in Syringomyelia, a life-long disorder in which a cyst forms within the spinal cord. This ultimately required surgery which left her paralyzed from the neck down. Only Emily’s inner strength and determination enabled her to walk again. She commented in her book: “Physically I had to start at the beginning —by learning to crawl and then to walk. Strange as it may seem, this was an intellectual as well as a physical challenge, because my mind had to direct my legs and arms how to move.” Finally, Emily was able to leave the hospital and her two college-age daughters were significant in helping her move home and be with her dog, Mulsey. The initial road to recovery was long and arduous and she experienced setbacks throughout her life.
Ever innovative, Emily’s new chapter began in Santa Rosa in 1975 where she and two psychologists founded an agency called Parental Stress with group meetings, classes and a hot-line. Her first clinical worker jobs were part-time with Home Health and Counseling in Napa with elderly individuals and Sonoma County Mental Health with clients who were mainly middle-aged with problems of depression, anxiety, marital problems or with their children. A new direction opened when she was appointed clinical social worker at Hanna Boys Center near Sonoma.
At the end of her first year, she took a two-week vacation and went to Zurich, Switzerland for a special study program at the C. G. Jung Institute. Emily had long been interested in Jung’s exploration of the human mind and spirit and the recognition and integration of the conscious and unconscious in our lives. The study program also enabled Emily to visit art galleries and cathedrals in Zurich as well as hike in the Swiss countryside — an unexpected delight.
After completing a second year at Hanna Boys Center, she resigned and traveled again to Europe. Returning to Santa Rosa, she opened a small private practice and then became a clinical social worker at the Sonoma County’s Petaluma clinic, a position which she felt was the best for her with its diverse activities: individual counseling, establishing an assertiveness training group for women as well as a support group for abused women.
Emily married Sam Connery in 1984. After living in Menlo Park where Sam worked with Sunset magazine, they moved to San Juan Island in 1987. This began another chapter in Emily’s life filled with happiness, travels, community involvement, new dogs, and continuing health issues. But she was never thwarted. In late 2016, Emily’s creative spirit took yet another new turn and she wrote, “The Christmas Owls,” with illustrations by Taylor Bruce of Friday Harbor.
Although dealing with severe health challenges and hospice care, Emily was able to see the finished work and give copies of the book to her writing group friends.
Emily’s undaunted spirit is an inspiration to all who knew her.
Her words in the last two paragraphs of “Educating Emily” are significant:
“Emily, who had independent tendencies since childhood, finally became an independent adult. She was a professional licensed clinical social worker, she had a career, she earned a living for herself and her children, and she felt competent and self-reliant, free from the control of others. She loved her feelings of achievement and gave silent blessing to all the fine people who had taught her so much, who had assured her transformation.
Yet Emily was also the same as she always was: a loving mother, a faithful friend, an adventurous spirit, an in-depth explorer, a diligent flutist, a mediocre tennis player, an uninspired cook, an avid reader, a struggling writer, a lover of nature and of all the incredible dogs and cats who shared their lives with her…Emily Felt Content.”
She was deeply appreciative of the loving support she received from her caregivers, Donna Miller and Dana and Gail Ross.
Emily died on New Year’s Day. She is survived by her husband, Sam Connery, now living at the Village in Friday Harbor; her daughters, Tia Kurtz and Debby Prince; and grandson, Garrett Prince.
For those wishing to make a donation in her memory, please give to the Sheltie Rescue at:
P.O. box 3523
Redmond WA, 980732