Cover photo for Gertrude French Stretton's Obituary
Gertrude French Stretton Profile Photo
1933 Gertrude 2023

Gertrude French Stretton

March 7, 1933 — May 13, 2023



Atop Meeting House Hill overlooking Boston, on March 7, 1933, a butterfly lit on a flower growing in a window box of an old Victorian house and dozed and dreamt that she was a human girl child born that day. And her name was Trudy, a bubbly child with golden, curly hair and a broad smile that she wore like a birthmark. Growing up during the Depression, there were early memories of standing in long lines holding her older sister's hand as they waited to pay a penny for a loaf of day old bread. Those tough times, though, didn't register as such with Trudy as her family, her mother and father, her three brothers and sister, were tight-knit, resourceful people who provided a warm home in which young Trudy could bud and flower.

As early as she remembered, she could always be found off by herself, pencil and paper in hand, sketching. Seeing this interest, Harold, her father, an accomplished self-taught artist in his own right, mentored her along, giving her all the paper and paint and brushes she could possibly use, even converting a coat closet into a small studio. By her early teens she was already painting posters for local businesses and church events. At 16, Trudy took first place in the National Scholastics Art Awards, winning a scholarship to the Boston Museum School and Tufts University.

After graduating from Tufts, for a short stint, she taught art at the De Cordova Art Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and explored an illustration career in the Boston area. However, 1950s Boston didn't offer many opportunities, and even less income, for a female artist. Then, in the United States, there was only one place for an ambitious female illustrator: the Big Apple. So, pocketing her $300 life­savings, she packed up her VW bug and headed for Greenwich Village. Jammed into an apartment with a gaggle of other new arrivals, she began trudging through New York's garment district, portfolio underarm, pounding on doors, hopeful of selling her skills as a fashion illustrator to garment makers. And she succeeded! In time, she went to work for Women's Wear Daily as a lead illustrator and fashion reporter. In addition to Women's Wear Daily, her freelance work appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vogue, Sports Illustrated and in advertisements for the Scott & Galey Lord accounts for the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency.

Then she began teaching "Life Drawing," "Figure Drawing," and "Book Illustration" in the Illustration Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. She spent 35 years teaching there, rising through the university system to become a fully tenured professor. During her time as Chairperson of the Illustration Department, she launched the Bachelor of Arts Degree Program in General Illustration. At this time, she also obtained her Master of Arts Degree from N.Y.U. in Gallery Design & Museology.

Trudy loved teaching and passing on her skills to ever new and eager students. Asked what she was most proud of in her life, she didn't hesitate to say "my career." Once she was stopped in a hallway at FIT by a group of fourth-year students who had been in one of her freshman illustration classes; they told her that what she'd taught them as freshmen was what allowed them to make it through their four years at FIT, what was making it possible for them to pursue a career in fashion illustration. Hearing that made Trudy's heart swell!

But there was much more to Trudy than just a sketch pad and pencil. She really loved sailing, to be pushed through swells by a soft breeze and then, later at anchor for the night and in the bunk, to hear a running tide lap against the hull. And she loved her sports. She liked to swing a golf club; she was an accomplished tennis player; and she skied. She skied all over New England and Europe and Colorado where she owned a place in Aspen eventually having to sell and escape from a stalking ex-husband. And that's when she came to Sun Valley, actually flew up with Bill Janss.

But one of Trudy's greatest passions was to dance. She knew all the steps. To help pay for college, she taught ballroom for The Arthur Murray Dance Academy where she was somewhat of a protege in their training program. Once in a club in New York she spotted Bob Fosse seated at a table so she asked him to dance. He had no idea that she knew who he was but gamely allowed himself to be told by this unknown blond that he was doing the moves all wrong. That was really a big night of laughs for Trudy, and Fosse, too.

So, Trudy did a lot of things, went a lot of places, had a good time. But the best of times were those spent with friends and family doing something, doing nothing, going nowhere, just sitting and laughing or being quiet, just being with people she liked and those she loved. And she particularly loved her nephews and her nieces and her sister, Ollie, especially Ollie. Trudy is survived by so many people she loved and cared for, just too many people to mention. But all you special people, you know who you are and you remember! Trudy thanks you. Trudy lived a very long and very fulfilling life. Then, this year about 3:30 in morning of May 13 something jolted the butterfly from its slumber and she rose up from the flower, the flower magically transported from Boston to just north of Hailey, she rose up, and with the moon glinting off her back, she flew away, disappearing into the woods, and her dream of the little, golden haired girl faded into the night.

Trudy was a Yankee born and bred with a resolute, flinty interior that tearlessly stood up to tough times. She needed all that stoicism during her final months. She was taken down by ALS, a merciless disease that slowly squeezed her life away. She lost the use of her legs, the legs she thought she'd always have, the legs that she'd waltzed through life with. She lost the use of her hand, the hand that recorded so flawlessly what she witnessed in the world. She was very saddened by all this, but she never cried. And she was so thankful that at the end of her days there was a handful of people who came around to help and give her comfort.

First there were Doctors Greenberg and Lindholm who gave Trudy knowledge. Then there was the Hospice team, social worker Ginni and nurses Christine, Brian, Taylor and Tina who came weekly with cheer and compassion; Judy, the hospice volunteer, who came as a stranger and became a friend, rubbing Trudy's legs and so kindly just being there. And steadfast friends, Susie and Dabne and Libby and Gaby who filled many lonely hours. Then on her 90th birthday, her last, the Three Gracies, her nieces Robin, Brandy and Chrissy came from far away to give their love; Trudy was so grateful. Finally,, a special thanks goes out to Kim and Madi, caregivers extraordinaire, who tenderly cared for Trudy through her last, long nights. When they arrived for the evening, Trudy's smile, often eclipsed at the end, would break out and shine like the sun. And Bert was around too doing what he could.

Goodbye, sweet Trudy.

On Saturday, July 22, at 1 p.m., we will gather at 119 Coyote Bluff Drive just north of Hailey to tell stories and help Trudy, and ourselves, move on. If Trudy meant something to you, please come.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Gertrude French Stretton, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Gathering

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Starts at 1:00 pm (Mountain time)

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