NEWPORT – Noreen Stonor Drexel, a philanthropist and pillar of Newport society, died unexpectedly at her Bellevue Avenue home on Tuesday after suffering a stroke.
She was 90.
Born the Honorable Noreen Stonor in Henley on Thames in England, Mrs. Drexel was the youngest child of Lord and Lady Camoys of Stonor Park, England. She came to Newport as a teenager with her mother, Mildred Sherman, daughter of William Watts Sherman, on the eve of the Second World War. She was the descendant of the State’s founder, Roger Williams, and of Nicholas Brown, a founder of Brown University.
She was born under such circumstances that she did not have to do anything with her life, but do she did. During World War II, Drexel became Chair of Bundles for Britain and headed the Newport War Bond Drive.
She volunteered at the Newport Naval Hospital where she had many jobs and worked in the Motor Pool as an ambulance driver. She was often on the scene of fires, hurricanes, and other disasters. Her tenure at the Naval Hospital continued through the Second World War, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam.
For a time, Mrs. Drexel lived in Palm Beach, Fla., where she ran the American Red Cross office. She was an early advocate of substance abuse prevention and launched a program with the local police geared to teaching youngsters about the dangers of substance and drug abuse. Students were taken to local jails to witness the havoc that such abuse could cause in life.
She founded the Childbirth Education Association of the Palm Beaches and helped produce a movie, First Breath, which promoted the Lamaze method and gave mothers and fathers-to-be information on what to expect during the birthing process. She would smile when recalling how on opening night, several fathers-to-be fainted when they saw what was coming.
In recognition of her energy and hard work, she became a member of the Foundation for International Child Health and The White House Conference on Children and Youth.
In New York, she was involved in the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Beekman Downtown Hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the New York Hospital - Cornell Medical Center. She was Chair of the Woman’s Division of the Lying-In Hospital of the City of New York.
In Newport, Mrs. Drexel has been a Trustee and Chair of the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust. Under her leadership, the Trust has supported the Newport Hospital, Salve Regina University, churches, the Touro Synagogue, schools, libraries, social service organizations, the City of Newport, and many other charitable organizations.
The recurrent themes of her lifetime of work have been health care and education. The Noreen Stonor Drexel Birthing Center at Newport Hospital welcomes children to Newport, a city that Mrs. Drexel has done so much to improve.
In recognition of her service to the City-by-the-Sea and so many others, she was awarded the degree Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Salve Regina in 1999. She served for many years on the University’s board of trustees.
Mrs. Drexel was the wife of John R. Drexel, III, who predeceased her, and is survived by her daughter, Pamela Drexel, her son, John R. Drexel IV, and her daughter, Noreen O’Farrell, seven grandsons, two great-granddaughters, and one great-grandson.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Birthing Center, Newport Hospital Foundation, 11 Friendship Street, Newport, RI 02840.
The funeral will be held on Saturday, November 10, 2012, at 11 a.m., at S. John the Evangelist Church, 61 Poplar St., Newport.
Burial will be private.
Funeral arrangements are by the O’Neill-Hayes Funeral Home, 465 Spring Street, Newport.