Educator, social activist and patron of the academic and arts communities Elizabeth Conti Bellavance of Salisbury and Richmond died from cancer Thursday, July 24, in Richmond.
Born September 29, 1936, in Pittsburgh, Mrs. Bellavance was the daughter of the late Eugene A. and Genevieve Keally Conti.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts with honors from Middlebury College and Master of Arts in English from Duquesne University, where she met her husband, Thom.
Most of her adult life was lived in university towns as he pursued a career in academe and they raised a growing family. At both Michigan State and Framingham State universities, she taught English as a second language.
In 1980, her husband became the sixth president of Salisbury University, and she spent much of her time and energy over the next two decades working to promote its development.
Bellavance was a strong advocate for academic excellence, a dedicated supporter of the arts and a fundraiser for various university initiatives.
She regularly attended campus lectures, exhibits and performances despite a busy schedule. She was a founding member of WSCL, the university’s public radio station, as well as a supporter of the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra, theatre and dance, and the Bellavance Honors Program, named in her husband’s memory.
She served as a consulting editor at the Houghton Mifflin Co. and for SU’s Literature/Film Quarterly journal. In her later years, she worked as a counselor in Career Services at both SU and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
She was also a founding board member of Coastal Hospice, where she is remembered for her dedication and hard work. Throughout the greater community she served multiple organizations, from the public library to public access television.
Though Mrs. Bellavance conscientiously avoided the limelight, she did receive the governor’s Unsung Hero Award for her volunteer work. She was just that in the eyes of those who knew her and appreciated her independent spirit.
A defining quality of Mrs. Bellavance was a unique ability to connect meaningfully with those she met, whether they were college students, migrant workers or senior citizens. A friend spoke of her gift for bringing people of similar interests together and nurturing collaboration. In quiet, private ways she would reach out to the suffering and vulnerable.
Those who knew her remember her sense of humor, her strength, her imagination and her moral passion.
Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton released a statement:
“Mrs. Bellavance was an inspiration to me. The incredible work she did on behalf of an increasingly diverse community was, and still is, desperately needed. Her work, based on beliefs in scripture, was recognized throughout the State of Maryland. The University, its students and our City and its residents wish her eternal rest. I know the world has suffered from the loss of Liz Bellavance – our collective goal should be to live a life like hers.”
Mrs. Bellavance was preceded in death by her husband of 32 years, Thomas E. Bellavance, and her sister Suzanne Conti Steinberg. She is survived by four children: Eugene T. Bellavance and his wife, Pattira, of Johnstown, CO; Sarah Bellavance Rasich and her husband, Jon, of Richmond; Genevieve Bellavance of Philadelphia; and Emily Catherine Bellavance of Baltimore; five grandchildren: Mark and Tommy Bellavance, and Ben, Biz and Emma Rasich; three sisters and two brothers: Jane Conti Hogan of Houston, TX; Catherine Conti Kilkeary of Ninety Six, SC; Christine Conti Swift of Bethesda, MD; Eugene A. Conti of Raleigh, NC; and John Gregory Conti of Perugia, Italy; and several nieces and nephews.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, at St. Mary’s Church, 9505 Gayton Road in Richmond. Those wishing to remember her may contribute to Bienvenidos a Delmarva, in care of the Salisbury University Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 2655, Salisbury, MD 21801-2655; the Seton Center Catholic Charity, 30632 Hampden Avenue, Princess Anne, MD 21853; or Coastal Hospice, P.O. Box 1733, Salisbury, MD 21802.