The life of a wonderful woman has come to a sudden end. Our beloved Wendy died on Oct. 24, 2022, in New York. At 81, she was still young-spirited and full of energy, planning the next family gathering and more adventures with Alan, welcoming friends with beautiful meals, and continuing to help others through her passion for education, social justice, and the arts. There are women and men, John W. Gardner observed, who make the world better, simply by being the kind of people they are—they have the gift of kindness, courage, loyalty, or integrity. Wendy Pesky was such a person, a gift to all those who knew her or were touched by her grace.
The first thing Wendy would want us to tell you about her is the joy she experienced as a mother, wife, grandmother, daughter, sister, and friend. Her quiet strength and warmth shone brightest among her family: Alan, her husband of 61 years; Heidi Worcester, her daughter, and Greg Pesky, her son; her son-in-law, Rick Worcester, and daughter-in-law, Naomi Pesky; her grandchildren, Eliza, Hope, and Sam Worcester, Talia and Levi Pesky; and her brothers, Michael, Peter, and Robert Stern. With her son Lee, whom we lost 27 years ago, Wendy is now camping under the stars and making perfect turns on mountains far above us. She was our rock and the light that drew us together. And she extended her generosity of spirit to friends and the community.
Wendy was born in New York City on Jan. 8, 1941, to Milton and Bernice Stern, from whom she inherited a trailblazing vitality. Childhood vacations riding horses, pitching hay, and skiing in Vermont gave this city girl a profound love for mountains and wild places. It was there, at the age of 19, that she met Alan, and it was love at first sight for both. They were married nine months later. Not one to waste time, Wendy was graduating from Hunter College at 21 with a bachelor’s in education and a baby on the way—Heidi, their first. Lee and Greg followed, and while she was raising the children, Wendy gave Alan her unwavering support in his career. After a successful career of her own as a marketing executive in the fragrance industry, Wendy parlayed her keen sense of design and entrepreneurial skills into The Farmhouse Collection, which she and two friends started together.
By far her most important venture was the founding with Alan in 1997 of a nonprofit dedicated to helping children with learning disabilities—Lee Pesky Learning Center, named in honor of their son, who died at the age of 30. Wendy and Alan cultivated a welcoming, collaborative environment where both children and staff feel valued and empowered to learn and grow. And, in her words, “where every child leaves with a little bit of Lee in them.”
The essence of Wendy is perhaps best conveyed by how she did things—often with humor, always with an open mind. Alan’s crazy adventure ideas she usually greeted with, “We are going where??” and then, “Sure, why not!” Alan in 1990: “If I take you to Fiji, will you first go biking and bungee jumping with me in New Zealand?” Wendy: “Sounds like a deal, but you get to do the first bungee jump.” The jump was aborted, the biking was great. Her gumption and zest in their adventures always delighted Alan. Whether biking on their own 600 miles across the Australia Outback, biking from Hanoi to Saigon, trekking the Patagonia circuit, being guests of the American expedition on Everest, or walking the Camino de Santiago — Wendy was game. Petite, yet strong and tough.
Their marriage was a remarkable and loving partnership, their life together packed with purpose and cherished roads traveled together. As she wrote to Alan on their 60th anniversary, “You have challenged me to become stronger, bolder, and more open to the unknown. You’ve always supported me, encouraged me, and been proud of me. You have loved me, and I have loved you … OK, there have been times when I could have thrown you overboard, but I definitely would have tossed you the life preserver.” We will miss her wit.
Wendy had the ability to make life more beautiful, a master of the small touches that made people feel welcome and special. Thank you notes, always handwritten and never perfunctory. A phone call to a friend just when it was most needed. Her commitment to leaving the world a better place, unheralded and humbly executed, shone through in all aspects of her life. Wendy was a thoughtful, generous, and active board member of the Sun Valley Museum of Art, The Alliance of Idaho, and, of course, Lee Pesky Learning Center. She and Alan have also been ardent supporters of The Hunger Coalition, Boise State University, Planned Parenthood, the Senior Connection, and Hunter College.
You could be fooled by Wendy’s understated approach. A few minutes spent in her quiet presence, though, was enough to blow you away. Curious and well-read, she had an informed point of view and was clear in her beliefs. She could be tough when needed, but never harsh. A model of balance, keeping things in perspective even in the worst of times. Alan, speaking of Wendy after the loss of their son Lee: “In the beginning, we took one breath, one step, one hour, one day at a time. Wendy dealt with it quietly, with the poise and calm she brings to nearly everything she does ... She is the strongest and most tender person I know.”
Fun to be with, easy to talk with, and a dynamo in all she did, Wendy surpassed her husband on the ski slope and the golf course and always delighted in the successes of others. She was a stealth bomber, Alan says. Early in his career, Wendy once plucked a cigar out of his mouth at a dinner party, saying with her lovely smile, “I hate those things,” broke it in half, then continued a conversation with the person next to her. Alan loved it. Effortlessly elegant, and beautiful inside and out, Wendy Pesky, in the words of a friend, was gracious in a way that is disappearing—a true lady. Soft-spoken and unassuming, she welcomed all to her table, her home, and her heart in an open way. A role model for a life well-lived with compassion and grace. Her absence leaves a hole for us that can never be filled.
Copper Basin in Idaho was Wendy’s special place, her heaven on earth. You could find her there early in the mornings, wrapped in a puffy and blankets, curled up on the swing seat in front of their cabin with a book and a mug of coffee, waiting for the sun to rise over the peaks and a glimpse of the resident moose. Wendy poured her love for Copper Basin and the beautiful times she spent there with family and friends into a stunning cookbook, "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner," which she created and published four months before she died. She was proud of it, and the book says a great deal about her. Wendy understood what so many of us miss— that a life is defined less by its highlights and low points than by all the small, everyday moments in between. And Wendy was a person who tended to those moments, to the life she shared with the people she loved.
We are deeply grateful to all who have shared their thoughts, memories, and appreciation of Wendy with us. Many of their words are reflected here. Donations in Wendy’s memory may be made to Lee Pesky Learning Center, the Sun Valley Museum of Art, and the Alliance of Idaho. A celebration of life will be held on July 27, 2023, in Ketchum with further details to be announced.