Always Active, Perfectly Coiffed: Dorothea Angela McElduff, 86
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Described by relatives, collaborators, friends and admirers as the “Matriarch of West 21st Street” as well as “one of the last of the old time Irish who had run Chelsea” and an all-around “lovely lady,” Dorothea Angela McElduff died suddenly on the evening of Sunday, January 27, at the age of 86.
In addition to earning those affectionate (albeit informal) titles, she was a Dame of Malta, a Lady of Charity and a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre — as well as an active participant in her parish and the Archdiocese of New York, the Chelsea Waterside Park Association, the West 400 Block Association, the Council of Chelsea Block Associations and Save Chelsea.
Dorothea was proud of the fact that she was born, raised and lived in the same home her entire life. The McElduffs moved to the 400 block of West 21st Street in the mid-1890s and purchased the building in 1904 — where generations would grow up, alongside Dorothea and an extended family. Her love and devotion to family was endless. She was always with her nieces and nephews, who were born and raised (and still live) on 21st Street.
The Guardian Angel School graduate kept a strong bond to both her school and church. A woman of great faith and service, Dorothea played a major role in Guardian Angel Church — serving as a Trustee, a Lector and a Eucharistic Minister. She was active in the daily functioning of the parish, having volunteered there for her entire lifetime. Dorothea continued her education at Cathedral High School and the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, NY. Upon graduating from college, she worked for 40 years, as an actuary, at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
Dorothea was very proud of her McElduff name and heritage. She would often tell stories of the history of Chelsea, peppering those accounts with vivid experiences of growing up in the “old neighborhood.” A wealth of information, she was well-known among community activists and organizations as the go-to person for verifying historical facts and acquiring little-known information on aspects of Chelsea that few current residents can lay claim to having been a part of.
She was among a handful of locals approached by StoryCorps — an award-winning nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives.
Dorothea’s StoryCorps recollection was filmed in collaboration with another longtime Chelsea resident. “By my earnest request,” recalls Pamela Wolff, “Dorothea was my StoryCorps partner. Our interview was filmed on March 20, 2010, providing me with one of the most delightful and rewarding experiences I could have imagined. She and I spent two afternoons having tea in a back booth at Moonstruck Diner, talking about our lives in Chelsea — hers from birth, mine from 1956.”
Their conversation is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress — but in an email to Chelsea Now, Wolff had another way to keep Dorothea’s legacy alive: “Please say something wonderful,” she implored, “about her always-perfect hair. It was her trademark.”
That distinctive coif placed a very close second on Dorothea’s list of priorities — but was always trumped by her sense of duty to others. West 300 Block Association co-chair Andra Gabrielle noted, “After a day of cleaning up, when Sandy flooded the Guardian Angel Church and Dorothea’s house, she wanted to make a call — as she needed to confirm a hairdresser’s appointment was still possible. She never left her responsibilities unfinished, or things a mess. She did it all before she rested.”
Many benefitted from Dorothea’s willingness to devote the necessary amount of time and attention to anyone who needed help, guidance or assistance. She would work continuously for causes she believed in, the majority of which had to do with preserving the integrity of Chelsea and ensuring the community she loved would remain a source of strength and inspiration for others.
Her funeral was held at Guardian Angel Church (at 10th Avenue and 22nd Street), a church she helped build. The family requests that those who wish to honor Dorothea’s life and legacy make donations to the Guardian Angel School (visit guardianangelschool-nyc.org or call 212-989-8280).
Dorothea is survived by her nieces and nephews, Edward (Virginia), Kathleen (widow of Kenneth), Maureen, Robert (Patricia), Eileen, Kevin, John, Joseph, James, Thomas, ten grandnieces and grandnephews and three great-grandnieces and nephews.
NOTE: Small but significant updates to the headline and article were made on March 8–to reflect a helpful reader comment pointing out that Dorothea was perfectly “Coiffed” as opposed to our booze-friendly implication of “Quaffed.” We regret the error and hope she would have found it amusing.