In Memoriam: Edouard Vaval, Woodworking Instructor, Austen Riggs 1994-2018



The Austen Riggs Center mourns the loss and celebrates the life of long-time Activities Program woodworking instructor Edouard Vaval. In January, the Riggs community lost a beloved member, Edouard Vaval, who served as woodworking instructor in the Activities Program from 1994-2018. Known not only for his talent as a woodworker, but also for his warmth, kindness, and depth of caring, Edouard will be greatly missed by patients and staff alike.

At a Community Meeting held to mourn his passing, nearly every person who spoke commented on how even a simple greeting from Edouard could make a person feel special and “known.” His calm presence, sense of humor, ability to slow things down, and honest humanity had a profound impact on the entire Riggs community.

Several Riggs leaders and members of the Activities Program staff share their thoughts below:

“Edouard’s passing is a profound loss to our community, and to every person who came in contact with him. We will miss him greatly and extend our deepest condolences to his partner, Eve, and to his family and friends.” Andrew J. Gerber, MD, PhD, Medical Director/CEO

The Austen Riggs Center mourns the loss and celebrates the life of long-time Activities Program woodworking instructor Edouard Vaval. “It’s been very hard coming in every morning and not seeing his smiling face and not hearing the laughter from his studio, which was just such a joy. He really was in so many ways our heart and our soul and our joy.” Jill Gibbons, Fiber Arts Instructor

“He was one of those rare people who actually liked other people. His manner, his way of being and considering people and all their hard reality was very genuine. That's no small thing. It's a special quality and was one of the things that made him tick.” Mark Mulherrin, Instructor in Visual Arts

“Some of the people Edouard worked with had a personal or family history in woodworking. Students would bring their parents’ tools or talk about memories of working in their father's workshop. These memories can be very sensitive. Edouard was able to work with these students, and all students, in a way that made the woodworking studio feel comfortable. Together they worked through the student's memories and made the woodwork be something of their own." Michael McCarthy, Pottery Instructor

“Edouard was a gifted woodworking instructor who inspired his students to explore their own style and sense of beauty. As he worked, he shared his wise perspectives on life and people, helping the rest of us, staff and students alike, to think more deeply about the world and ourselves. I miss him enormously.” Donna M. Elmendorf, PhD, Director of the Therapeutic Community Program and Activities Program, and Human Development Initiative Leader

To read Edouard’s obituary, please visit here.  A memorial service will be held at St. Peter's Presbyterian Church in Spencertown, NY, at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 17, 2018, followed by a reception and celebration of Edouard's life at the Spencertown Academy Arts Center (within walking distance of the church).  

Hear Edouard Vaval Talk About His Work in the Activities Program