Nancy Epstein, the epitome of elegance, dies at 87


Nancy Eichorn Epstein, a long-time volunteer of the Morgan Park Summer Music Festival, died at age 87 on Nov. 27 after battling cancer for the fourth time.

Epstein was born in Oswego, N.Y., and grew up in Syracuse where her father managed a Woolworth five-and-dime store. She attended Syracuse University and was a member of Gamma Phi Beta sorority.

While in school she met her husband Sanford (Sandy) through a mutual friend. The two married in their early twenties and moved to an apartment in Queens. About seven years later, they moved to Glen Cove.

Friends and family said that Epstein was always involved in some sort of volunteer activity in Glen Cove. She became especially involved in the Morgan Park Summer Music Festival, a not-for-profit volunteer community organization founded in 1959 to present free concerts in the park. During its early days, her judgment and vision were central to its growth and success.

Whether it was requesting donations from her many affluent friends, helping secure the performers or directing the advertising, she took it as seriously as a full-time job.

“Nancy was also committed to a professional level of performance of the operational details that sustained the organization,” said U.S. Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi, whose late mother was chairman emeritus of the festival. “Her stress on recognizing [the member’s] work played an important role in the attraction and retention of the many people who give their time and talents to the MPSMF. Despite many years of service, Nancy never wavered in her passion, enthusiasm and devotion.”

There is a common theme with how people described Epstein. She was classy, elegant, thoughtful and would “tell it like it is.” She was like the real-life Gatsby of the Gold Coast.

Epstein had a passion for entertaining and was known for throwing fabulous parties and hosting holidays in her grand dining room, complete with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, planned down to the minutest detail.

With family spread throughout the country, Epstein would gift the children and grandchildren unique presents when they came to visit, even up until their 30s. “Nancy kept meticulous notes regarding what everyone liked,” said her daughter-in-law Deborah Epstein. “Big family gatherings included her beautiful signature baskets overflowing with our favorite treats, even it if meant mail ordering or combing Long Island’s many stores until she located what she wanted.”

Epstein was known to retain an incredible amount of details about family and friends, making each conversation meaningful and making each person she talked to feel special. She was intelligent and worldly, also making her easy to talk to about anything.

Traveling was another one of Epstein’s passions. From tented adventures in Africa’s safaris to dancing the night away in Monte Carlo, Epstein kept scrapbooks of her travels and loved sharing her stories. “She wanted to explore the world and everything it had to offer,” said her granddaughter Christy Petersen, who traveled to Italy, France and Greece with her.

“She was the person you wanted to share something exciting with because she made you feel really special,” said Petersen. “She was the most elegant and glamorous person I’ve ever met.”

Petersen said Epstein not only exuded style, but taught her important life lessons: Have your own opinions, be a good hostess, make people feel special, and keep in touch with friends. Epstein was also known to be on the phone for hours or emailing with friends on a daily basis.

“There will never be another Nancy,” said Epstein’s long-time friend Sally Bodi. “Those of us who knew her were in awe of her ability to handle every single situation with such kindness and grace.”

During her fourth and final bout with cancer, Epstein was still as strong as ever. “She handled it just like she did everything in life — attacking it head on, having a plan, really being strong in a tough situation,” added Petersen.

Despite the pain of her illness, Epstein made it through this past Thanksgiving (her favorite holiday) with her family by her side. After the last relative left on Nov. 27, she died that same afternoon.

Epstein is survived by her husband of 66 years, Sanford; her sons Scott (Beverly) of Auburndale, Mass., and Steve (Deborah) of Irvine, Calif.; her grandchildren, Christeen (Greg) Petersen, Rachel Epstein, Sophia Epstein and Cody Epstein. Her grandson, Nicholas Epstein, passed away on Oct. 30 after a brief illness.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Morgan Park Summer Music Festival, P.O. Box 296, Glen Cove, N.Y. 11542, and her family hopes that everyone will be inspired to attend one of the free concerts in the future.

Instead of a funeral, Epstein’s family and friends are holding a private “celebration of life,” with the fitting theme of “festive elegance.”