North Andover — Helen “Skip” Eccles, 86, died on February 26, at her home at Edgewood Retirement Community, North Andover, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January. Declining medical intervention, Skip relished her last days in the warm surroundings of her Edgewood community in the caring hands of staff, friends and family.
Born in 1928, Skip was raised in Columbus, Ohio, until entering Bryn Mawr College, where her love of language and literature was cemented for life. She married Frank, also “Skip,” Eccles in 1950. After several years in Schenectady N.Y., the couple moved to Andover, Mass., where Frank joined the faculty at Phillips Academy. For the next 40 years, the Skips were fully immersed in the Andover community. Skip was a dormitory parent for most of those years, and nurtured generations of students while raising their own four children.
In addition to her role as a faculty wife, Skip pursued a journalism career that included positions as the education reporter for the Andover Townsman and writer, then editor, of the academy’s alumni magazine, which won multiple awards during her tenure.
Everyone who knew Skip experienced her passion for social justice. She and her husband worked together tirelessly to support causes committed to expanding opportunities for all. Together they helped conceive and direct the Andover-Dartmouth Summer Teacher’s Institute (ADI), a program dedicated to empowering Inner City mathematics teachers from across the U.S. She served on the board of the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center at a critical time of its growth, and on the board of Bread and Roses. As a longtime parishioner of Christ Church, she became active in the Merrimack Valley Project (MVP), an interfaith organizing group committed to social justice. “Skip could not abide injustice,” said Rose Marie Buxton of North Andover. “She was rather quiet, but very direct and outspoken about what she felt was important.” At age 83, she was among those who stood outside in freezing February weather to protest unethical mortgage foreclosures against the poor. She used her journalistic talents to produce oral histories that gave voice to those affected. She protested for workers’ rights and helped get legislators involved in passing protective laws. Former State Sen. Sue Tucker of Andover noted, “Wherever there was a just cause — equal opportunity, women’s rights, or the environment – Skip was there. She was one of the warriors for justice.”
Summers brought a change of pace; life at the family farm in West Brookfield, Vt., meant gardening, grandchildren, good friendships with neighbors, and the 4th of July.
Skip will be remembered for her warm and generous spirit. She always welcomed people and brought them together. It was that spirit, coupled with her infectious sense of fun and humor (not always constrained by good taste), that transformed acquaintances from each stopover in her life into lasting friends.
She is survived by her children, Cobber, Lydia, Isabel, and Betsy; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Her beloved beagle, Quinzey, died in August.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Skip’s memory to either The Merrimack Valley Project, 1045 Essex Street, Lawrence, MA 01841, or Trustees of Phillips Academy, The Frank Eccles Scholarship Fund for (MS)2, 180 Main Street, Andover, MA, 01810.
ARRANGEMENTS: A memorial service will be held at Christ Church, 25 Central Street, Andover, on Saturday, March 8, at 1 p.m.
To offer condolences, please visit www.contefuneralhomes.com.