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PORTRAIT OF TRUE SIGNIFICANCE: Edith and Francis Schaeffer.
Sylvester Jacobs
PORTRAIT OF TRUE SIGNIFICANCE: Edith and Francis Schaeffer.

A work of art

Obituary | Edith Schaeffer, 1914-2013

Issue: "Unstoppable?," April 20, 2013

Edith Rachel Merritt Seville Schaeffer died on March 30, 2013, at 98 and at home in Gryon, Switzerland. She moved there 13 years ago, surrounded by memories, her music, her son’s paintings, and detailed care. She was the third daughter of George and Jessie Seville, who ran a school for girls in Wenzhou, China, and taught the Bible in Mandarin. 

Growing up in China, each of the three daughters rejected a conventional life. Edith’s oldest sister became a communist in 1930s New York. The second eloped. Edith married Francis August Schaeffer in 1935 and never was the typical wife of a pastor or missionary. She worked with her husband, as he wanted her to, teaching seminary wives and others to question, create, and make of life something with integrity.

To put her husband through three years of seminary, Edith tailored men’s suits and made ballroom gowns and wedding dresses. From cow skins she made belts sold in New York stores. With little money she prepared tasteful, varied meals. She painted a fresco in the vestibule of the church her husband pastored in Grove City, Pa. They lectured together and urged people to understand what they believed and to analyze the surrounding intellectual and cultural ideas. They taught in churches and university halls from Finland to Portugal that Christianity is the truth of the universe, not a personal faith.

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She lived her life as a work of art, a portrait of true significance in a stunning and creative personality. She drew on life’s opportunities to show that God makes human beings for the enrichment of everyone’s life. With her husband she engaged in this work right from the start of their life together, and in 1955 founded with him L’Abri in Switzerland. She was in all things generous. The Schaeffers had three daughters and one son: Priscilla, Susan, Deborah, and Frank. Royalties from her 17 books—including Affliction, Tapestry, and Christianity Is Jewish—paid for annual reunions with the four children and their families so cousins would know one another.

She always wanted to make available to a wide audience her husband’s and her ideas. She found and enjoyed interesting people anywhere and easily engaged them in conversation in the street, in planes, and over the phone. She stayed up nights to help someone out of their distress or need. She served imaginative meals and decorated the table with twigs, moss, and field flowers. 

She left the work of L’Abri after her husband’s death in 1984 and started the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation with her daughter, Deborah Middelmann, and myself. She wrote books, lectured widely, and twice returned to her birthplace in China. She once presented “Forever Music” at Alice Tully Hall in New York with the Guarneri Quartet. Through Steinway’s chief piano voicer she came to know musicians like Mstislav Rostropovich, Vladimir Horowitz, Rudolph Serkin, Yo-Yo Ma, Jahja Ling, and Christopher Parkening. She met B.B. King at a jazz festival, and he gave her his pass to the evening’s concert. On the island of Elba, saxophonist Sonny Rollins noticed her rhythm as she danced during his concert: He came off the stage and danced with her.

On March 30 she “slipped into the nearer presence of Jesus,” from whom she awaits the promised resurrection to continue her life on earth and to dance once again with a body restored to wholeness.

—Udo Middelmann is an author, lecturer, president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation, and a visiting professor at The King’s College in New York; he is also the son-in-law of Edith Schaeffer


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