Edna Williamson Zemanian, a longtime local educator and active member of Setauket Presbyterian Church, died Aug. 1 after a seven-year battle with Parkinson's disease. She was 79.
Zemanian came to Three Village when her husband got a job at Stony Brook University in 1977. A 1952 graduate of Bates College, she worked as a fourth grade teacher before landing a job at the university designing and managing community outreach programs for local teachers and students to take advantage of the school’s resources.
"For example, if a teacher wanted to do something using the latest DNA research, she would put a program together for that," said her daughter, Susan Drennan.
Zemanian was recognized as the Village Times Herald's 1993 “Three Village Woman of the Year in Education” and received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Education in 1995.
She was also an active member of the Setauket Presybeterian Church congregation, volunteering in the Sunday school program and at soup kitchens.
“She was about as empathetic a person as you can ever meet,” said her son, Pete. “She would always approach people from their perspective.”
Drennan recalled watching her mother read a story to a 3-year-old family member years ago, saying she remembered the other adults in the room being as transfixed by her mother's presentation as the child was.
"We loved watching the interaction between them, how involved she got as she told the story and then the little kid laughing and clapping and yelling for more," Drennan said.
She said she remembered friends bringing their children to the family’s beach house, and her mother getting down on the floor to play with them.
“I’d wonder how come none of the other mothers got down on the floor like that,” Drennan said. “I didn’t realize what a great mom she was until my friends told me.”
Apart from her role in education, Zemanian was active politically, in her church and in her community. She wrote a series of letters to George W. Bush in the lead-up to the Iraq war to discourage him from going ahead with it, said her daughter.
Zemanian is survived by her husband of 53 years, Armen Zemanian; four children; and nine grandchildren. A memorial service was held Aug. 6 at Setauket Presbyterian Church; donations in her name can be made to Bread for the World.