Washington Heights – Eileen McEachron Foster, known affectionately as Nell, died suddenly on Thursday, March 4th in Washington Heights, Manhattan at age 38. Born in Ithaca, NY to Andrew McEachron Foster and Eileen Rose Hagerty on November 13th, 1982, Nell will be greatly missed and deeply mourned by all those whose lives she touched, including her parents, her daughter, Camille Vivienne Foster (7); her brother Evan Foster (26); and sisters, Hannah Rose Foster (31) and Erin Elizabeth Foster (36).
Nell was raised in downtown Ithaca and attended Belle Sherman Elementary School, where she found a deep passion for reading that remained with her til the very end. Growing up, she could often be found reading three books at once, needing gentle reminders to not read at the dinner table well into adulthood. In her wily teenage years, she attended the Alternative Community School (ACS) where she raised hell in the best of ways, leaving an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of her peers and mentors alike as she matured into a shrewd intellectual, ever wise beyond her years.
Nell went on to attend SUNY Binghamton, where she double majored in English Literature and History. Shortly after graduating, Nell started her next chapter in San Francisco as an Americorps volunteer in a middle school. There, Nell discovered a talent and zeal for working with young adolescents in all their weirdness, brilliance, and unapologetic authenticity. She further pursued her role in the world of education as she became a corps member of the New York Teaching Fellows (NYTF). Through NYTF, Nell earned her Masters in Education at Hunter College while teaching full time. She later went on to share her pedagogical expertise as a mentor to newer Teaching Fellows.
Ms. Foster, as she was known to her students, spent several years teaching Language Arts at public middle schools in the South Bronx and East Harlem. Most recently, she spent 6 dedicated years at Robert F. Wagner Middle School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where she was beloved and revered by colleagues and students alike. Nell had a commanding and magnetic presence in the classroom, where she was truly in her element as a warm, funny, but uncompromising and demanding educator. She expected the best out of her students’ behavior and work while valuing her relationships with them above all else. Day after day, students would patiently line up outside of her classroom to spend their lunch period in her room, in her presence. Most importantly, she fostered their critical thinking skills and empathy. Ms. Foster’s students were not just learning about reading and writing in her classroom; they were pushed and encouraged to find their place in the world as interrogators and disruptors of society’s injustices. Without a doubt, her legacy and brilliance will live on in the lives of her students past and present, many of whom attribute their successes to her passionate and methodical approach to instruction and mentorship.
Inside and outside the classroom, Nell was never a woman to trifle with. A devout Scorpio in the truest sense, her personality could fittingly be described as intelligent, intense, complex, unique, and deeply humorous. She valued unconditional loyalty above all else. Sporting an intimidating intellect and vocabulary, one could only hope not to end up on her sh*tlist. A self-described and shameless nerd, Nell was endlessly curious and fascinated by all things related to lineage and British history. From the Classical Era to Victorian nobility and palace intrigue – Nell knew it all and deeply valued her heritage and intricate family stories. She never made it to Mother Britain, but her siblings plan to bring some of her ashes there together. Nell also possessed a discerning eye for vintage fashion, antiques, and jewelry. Strolling the sidewalks of Washington Heights in timeless pieces from her vast wardrobe, Nell embodied the indulgent tastes and elegant style of glamorous women and mid century divas — a true modern-day Marilyn Monroe.
As a mother and sister, Nell was fiercely protective, loving, and loyal. She valued above all else her role as a mother. Her 7 year old daughter Camille was her best friend, confidant, and mini-me. The two were nearly inseparable, and were each other’s world. They shared an appreciation for fabulous outfits, reading, and the perpetual energy of New York City. Camille and Nell could often be found hand in hand, seeking out the pockets of natural beauty of the city that wait, ready to be appreciated by those with a keen eye. Nell’s abundant love and care molded her daughter into the strong and vivacious girl she is today. Indeed, Nell herself would single out her daughter as her greatest achievement.
Through it all, Nell often struggled with the darkness of her mental health and substance abuse. Her resilience, coupled with the love and support of her family, buoyed her through periods of sobriety. Despite this, Nell ultimately succumbed to the disease of addiction. Nell’s family is heartbroken by her passing, which leaves a void that cannot be filled. Our hearts go out to others who have lost loved ones to substance use disorders, and we encourage anyone struggling with addiction and mental health to seek support. In these often dark and lonely times, we must check on ourselves and each other. In lieu of flowers or other gifts, the Foster family asks that you please consider donating to local organizations supporting people with mental illness and substance use disorders, including Ithaca Community Recovery (ICR) and Family & Children’s Services. Information about donating to these organizations can be found at their respective websites, https://www.ithacacommunityrecovery.org/donate and https://55213.thankyou4caring.org/pages/general-donation-form-2018. Details for a summer memorial are forthcoming.
To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.Published in Ithaca Journal from Mar. 9 to Mar. 12, 2021.