Dr. Lillian Elizabeth Greenwalt Higgins Pearce died April 15 at the Henrietta Brewer House in Vineyard Haven. She was 90.
Her family is very grateful and appreciative of the care and concern she received from the staff and owners of the Henrietta Brewer House.
Lillian was a long time resident of Jersey City and attended Jersey City State Normal School, class of 1943, and then went on to Sargent College-Boston University majoring in physical education, class of 1945. Following graduation, she married Daniel Fowlston Higgins in 1947.
As a couple, they traveled to Peking, China, as missionaries for the United Board of Christian Colleges and taught at Yenching University. In November 1948, the internal conflict had escalated which caused them to return to Jersey City with their young daughter Alice Ruth. Following the death of her husband from polio in 1952, Lillian returned to teaching. She first worked in Jersey City and then continued her career in Union City, N.J., in 1954. Following her marriage in 1960 to Harry Richard Pearce, she taught for the Bergen School and the Jersey Academy. Soon after, she started working for the Jersey City YWCA as director of health and physical education programs.
Lillian received a master’s degree from Montclair State College, class of 1968, and was subsequently hired by Jersey City State College as an associate professor to teach aquatics in the newly-built swimming facility. During her 24-year tenure she served several terms as chairman of department of sports and leisure studies, and the girl’s swimming coach. She received her doctoral degree from Sarasota University in 1984 and retired from the college in 1992.
Lillian was a member of Christ United Methodist Church, Jersey City. She taught Sunday school, planned and directed the summer bible school, was a member of the United Methodist Women and served on the board for many terms. When she moved to Martha’s Vineyard she brought her passion and dedication to Trinity United Mehodist Church and served, as she was able.
For more than 50 years Lillian was a volunteer in the American Red Cross. She held certifications as a water safety instructor, first aid instructor, water safety instructor trainer and CPR instructor. For 10 years she was chairman of safety services at the Hudson County chapter. In 1993 the Red Cross honored her for her long and dedicated service.
She was assistant director and base drummer for the North Hudson girls fife drum and bugle girls corps and the Jersey City Lassies for more than 50 years. She marched through many main streets, playing at the inaugurations of President Truman and President Roosevelt, several Miss America Pageants in Atlantic City, at the annual Macy’s Day parade, at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and for many hospital benefit programs for veterans. The band honored her many times through the years by awarding her the competition trophy.
Lillian was a lifelong Girl Scout. She was waterfront director at Camp Hudsonia for several years and was also the camp bugler. She was elected to the board of directors in Hudson County in 1980 and served for many years. The Girl Scouts honored her in 1989 with the thanks badge.
She had devoted countless hours to many community service organizations. She received many accolades and numerous awards. She was a Jersey Journal Woman of Achievement (1984) and was one of 100 outstanding citizens of Hudson County (1985). In 1992 she was honored by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance for contributions to the field of aquatics at both the state and national level. She was charter member and a past president of Jersey City chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, and in 1992 the members honored her for the many years of service and dedication to education. In 1993, she was honored by Jersey City State College as a distinguished alumna class of 1943. In 1998 she was among the first group to be inducted into the Dickson High School Hall of fame. Lillian’s biography appears in Who’s Who of American Woman 1977-78
She was inducted to the New Jersey City University, (Jersey City State College) athletic hall of fame in 1994 as the women’s swimming coach and multi-sport participant. A 1943 graduate, Lillian participated in every sport available — archery, badminton, basketball, fencing, softball and volleyball. She earned the Bowman Bar Award for excellence in archery. Her daughter, Lynn B. Pearce Gatchell, 1973, is also a 1987 athletic hall of fame inductee in women’s swimming and diving, making them the only mother-daughter combination in the NJCU Hall of Fame.
In recent years she enjoyed her retirement in Oak Bluffs, especially working at the senior center and all the friends she made on the Island.
Lillian was predeceased by her husbands Daniel Fowlston Higgins and H. Richard Pearce, her son Allen Rogers and her siblings Florence Grace Greenwalt and Fredrick Water Greenwalt.
She is survived by her daughters Alice Ruth Bennett, Lynn Barbara Gatchell and her husband Robert Gatchell, Janet Louise Heuring and her husband William Heuring; and her son Richard David Pearce and his wife Tracy Pearce; grandchildren Fletcher Drew Bennett and his fiancé Laura Elizabeth Wagner, Gaerrick Shaw Bennett and his wife Corey Rossiter Bennett, Kyle Stephenson Gatchell and his wife Jennifer Suzanne Gatchell, and Seth Brandon Pearce; great-grandchildren Allison Elizabeth Gatchell, Jacob Kyle Gatchell, Alyla Maebh Bennett and Bruce Adam Bennett
Lillian wished to have her body donated to the Boston University Medical Center, in lieu of a funeral service.
Cards may be sent to her family care of Lynn Gatchell, Box 538, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557. In lieu of flowers, donations in Lillian’s name would be appreciated to the American Red Cross, YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, the Oak Bluffs Firemen’s Association or any charity of your choice.
Arrangements are under the care of Chapman Cole and Gleason Funeral Home in Oak Bluffs. Visit ccgfuneralhome.com for online guest book and information.