Obituary: Lois Eliot, wife of former chancellor, 92

Lois Jameson Eliot, wife of former Chancellor Thomas H. Eliot, died in her sleep Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2004, in Cambridge, Mass. She was 92.

Born Feb. 9, 1912, in Rochester, N.Y., Eliot graduated from Smith College in 1933 before taking a secretarial job in Washington, D.C., where she met her future husband.

Thomas Eliot was drafting the first Social Security Act for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and it was then that Lois Eliot determined that her major life’s work would be as supporter, adviser and helpmate to her husband.

When living in Cambridge after World War II, Lois Eliot kept busy as an active member of the League of Women Voters, the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom, and as president of her graduating class at Smith — a position she held for many decades.

The couple came to Washington University in 1952, when Thomas Eliot took a faculty position as professor of political science.

In the 1950s, Mrs. Eliot became involved in a research project called the “baby tooth survey” in which baby teeth were collected and tested for Strontium 90, a form of radiation from nuclear fallout. This was just one of the many scientific activities and interests she engaged in throughout her life.

In 1962, he became chancellor and held that position until leaving the University in 1971.

“She was the one with the social skills,” said her daughter, Nancy Eliot Ulett.

“While Dad ran the University, she ran the household schedule, which might include anything from a small afternoon faculty wives’ tea to a full sitdown dinner with the prime minister of Singapore and his entire entourage, including bodyguards and secret service.

“And she somehow managed to do this with complete grace and unflappability. Dad would just have to come home and take his place at the head of the table.”

In 1971, Thomas Eliot retired from Washington U. and returned to Cambridge, where he assumed the presidency of the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies which took the couple to Salzburg, Austria for several months every year. Later, they co-authored the book The History of the Salzberg Seminar: The First 40 Years.

In addition to Ulett, survivors include a son, Samuel Atkins Eliot IV; four grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

In addition to her husband, she was preceded in death by her sisters, Ann Bucksnaitis and Jean White.

A service will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Harvard Memorial Chapel.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Northeast Harbor Library, P.O. Box 279, Northeast Harbor, ME 04622, and should be marked “Lois Eliot memorial.”