Gretchen Heller Farmer P’05, a member of the Board of Trustees, past parent, friend and loyal supporter of The Frederick Gunn School, passed away in Pattaya, Thailand, on January 1. She suffered a heart attack following two successful surgeries for a broken hip and shoulder sustained earlier in her travels with her family, her obituary said. She was 67 years old.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Gretchen graduated from the University School of Milwaukee in 1973 and from Dartmouth College in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in economics and government. She worked in financial planning at Merrill Lynch in New York City. In 1981 she married Philip Morgan Farmer P'05. They raised their children in Washington, Connecticut, where they remained part-time residents.
Gretchen Farmer became a Trustee of the School in 2005 and was a long-time member of both the Finance and Development committees. “She was faithful to and supportive of the school in every way possible,” said Head of School Peter Becker. “Gretchen showed up: she prioritized attendance at Board and committee meetings, and she and Phil regularly attended school events such as Commencement, concerts, athletic contests, and the annual Town Party. Gretchen and Phil’s commitment to the school comes in the context of their demonstrated understanding of the importance of multiple institutions in order for the town to thrive.”
As longtime residents of Washington, the Farmers have given generously of their time and talent to support multiple local organizations, including Gunn, Rumsey Hall School, the Judy Black Memorial Park and Gardens, and Steep Rock Association. Gretchen was a Trustee of Rumsey Hall School for 20 years and was a board member of the Washington Environmental Council and current co-president of the Washington Garden Club.
In 2010, the school honored Gretchen and Phil at the annual Town Party as the first recipients of the Friend of the Green Award. In addition to celebrating the relationship between the school and the Gunn Memorial Library and Museum, which spans more than a century, the award recognized the Farmers for their dedicated service and commitment as board members of both institutions. According to the library, Gretchen was a Trustee from 1991-1998 and a past President of the Board. “Gretchen was an active member of the Friends of the Junior Library that brought forward the idea of a Library Expansion, and was instrumental in developing the highly successful Library Luminaries fundraising event. In keeping with Gretchen’s strong interest in ‘going green’, the Farmers were responsible for the installation of Gunn’s geothermal system,” the library said.
In 2016, as a Florida resident, Gretchen became active in the BallenIsles Charities Foundation, serving on the Grants committee. More recently, Gretchen was among the earliest supporters of the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship, and attended the groundbreaking ceremony on campus in June.
“She gave wise counsel and didn’t suffer fools,” Becker said. “She was generous and she never looked for credit. I’ve learned that schools require different kinds of heroes in order to flourish. Gretchen was a quiet hero. We will all miss her.”
Gretchen is survived by her husband of 41 years, her children, Austin Morgan Farmer (Phedpialin Suttayawanit Farmer), Mallory Martin Farmer '05, and granddaughter, Lillian Mali Farmer. She is also survived by her siblings, John Andrew (Anne) Heller and Heidi Heller Kiesler and sister in-law, Mary Ellen Heller.
Memorial services are planned for March 6 at 5 p.m. at the Palm Bay Clubhouse, BallenIsles, 200 Palm Bay Drive, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and May 20 at 3 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, Washington.In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made in Gretchen’s memory to: Gunn Memorial Library or the BallenIsles Charities Foundation.