Eliska Chanlett

June 8, 2014 

Eliska Chanlett

Eliska LowBeer Chanlett died May 21, 2014, quietly ending 91 remarkable years. She was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, to secular Jewish and industrialist family. Her education moved from the Czech public schools to the International School in Geneva, Switzerland, and was disrupted by the spread of Nazism. Her family scattered. She and her mother reunited in the south of France and made their way to Brazil in 1941.

Her skill with languages gained her a job at the Canadian Embassy in Rio de Janiero. During a bold trip up the Amazon River, she met a young officer in the Army Corps of Engineers who was improving public hygiene for rubber workers’ communities, and they formed a life-long partnership. She and Emil Chanlett were married in Chapel Hill in December 1946, as he began his 35 year career at the newly formed School of Public Health.

She was enormously proud to become a US citizen in 1948 and never dwelt on her involuntary departure from Europe. She had two children, Chris and Claudia, before returning to her own education at the University of North Carolina. She earned an B.A. in sociology with highest honors and made Phi Beta Kappa, and then an M.A. in sociology. She was also certified to teach French from the University of Geneva and University of Aix. She enjoyed communicating at all times, and added to her native Czech, German, and French with English, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish.

In the mid-50s, she joined the League of Women Voters and became its local president. She began a life-long commitment to the Democratic Party. A high point of her political career occurred in 1961 with her appointment to be the US representative to the Inter-American Commission of Women, an agency of the Organization of American States. She served until 1965 when she tired of defending US involvement in Vietnam and resigned in protest. She continued to work on behalf of women’s issues throughout the world for the rest of her life.

Her professional career centered on teaching languages and advancing population studies. She taught at North Carolina Central University for six years. Her work and her husband’s carried them around the globe for various posts, mainly in Latin America, India, and Thailand. She enjoyed every encounter with a new culture. She retired in 1979 as Associate Director for Scientific Information, POPLABs of the UNC/CH. She had ten publications to her name.

After retirement she increased her volunteer work. She was a founder and president of Planned Parenthood of Orange County. She was a founder and board member of Triangle Hospice. She counseled at the Women’s Health Crisis and HELPLINE. She served on boards including the Adolescent Parenting Program, Chapel Hill Community Church, North Carolina Symphony Endowment Fund, Adelaide Walters Apartments, and Shared Learning. At her beloved Carol Woods Retirement Community, she stayed active in committees, programs, and creative work. She believed deeply in giving back to the community and donated generously to many causes. She especially favored women's rights, music and arts programs, and nature conservation.

She is survived by daughter Claudia Prose MD of Chapel Hill; son Chris and daughter-in-law Torula Chanlett-Avery of Hinton, WVa; granddaughters Johanna Prose of Durham, Sarah Prose of Costa Mesa, Ca; Emma Chanlett-Avery of Washington DC; Sadie Chanlett-Avery of Oakland, Ca; great-granddaughters Cora Eliska and Sasha Elizabeth Ogden.

A private gathering was held to commemorate her life. Memorials may be made to Planned Parenthood of Central Carolina or the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy.

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