Patty Haberstroh — a longtime beloved Westporter, who in decades of service touched the lives of countless residents, and whose courageous 6-year battle against ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) inspired many more — died peacefully on Monday, at Yale New Haven Hospital. She was 73.
Patricia Clark Haberstroh’s 20 years as a social worker in Westport’s Department of Human Services were dedicated to helping others in need.
As family program coordinator, Patty ran and supported countless important initiatives: the annual Back-To-School program that offers backpacks, school supplies and shoe store gift cards to hundreds of children from low-income families; the Family Holiday Giving program, which provides Westport children in need with holiday gifts; the Westport Mentor program; summer camperships; after-school scholarships; Thanksgiving dinner donations; MLK Day basketball clinics; Minds in Motion, and Prom and Graduation Gowns programs.
Patty also took immense pride in volunteer work for Westport’s public schools, serving as PTA president of Coleytown Elementary and Staples High Schools, and on the PTA Council.
One of her proudest achievements was as a member of an ad hoc committee to reject a referendum attempt to cut town education expenses by $1 million in the mid-1990s.
Around that time, Patty also was a key member of the “new” Staples High School planning committee.
She was a masterful storyteller and, most importantly, a trusted colleague and friend. In Westport, she cultivated a vibrant community of true friendships built and tended to over a myriad of Friday Pizza Nights.
Her dogged commitment to helping others was only bolstered in October 2017, when she was diagnosed with her terminal illness.
Faced with a degenerative disease with no cures or effective treatments, Patty sought to reverse that fate for current and future generations of people living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Shortly after her devastating diagnosis, Patty became an influential leader in the ALS community through her relentless advocacy and fundraising efforts. She and her family launched the viral #ALSPepperChallenge campaign on social media, raising over $1 million for ALS research, largely benefiting the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI).
Thousands of supporters from around the world posted videos of themselves eating hot peppers in honor of Patty, and to raise awareness for ALS. Celebrities like Kelly Clarkson, Jimmy Kimmel, Andy Cohen, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley participated in the challenge, chomping on jalapeños and habaneros on national television.
Patty never liked spicy food, but happily devoured it for the cause.
Patty Haberstroh and others suffering from ALS were honored by NASDAQ in New York City, in 2018.
Patty was deeply honored to receive ALS TDI’s 2018 Stephen Milne Adventurous Spirit Award for her selfless advocacy, and MDA’s Wings Over Wall Street Spirit Award in 2020.
Her unwavering tenacity inspired her sons to help launch a grassroots Lou Gehrig Day committee. Beginning in 2021, they established an annual awareness day every June 2, in honor of Lou Gehrig and across all of Major and Minor League Baseball.
There are only 3 such days in MLB, where a league-wide athlete and associated cause is celebrated by all teams.
Born November 23, 1949 in New York City, Patty was the daughter of the late William Lee Clark and Patricia Braden Clark, who nicknamed young her “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and “Pollyanna.”
The oldest of 4 children, Patty attended Darien High School, then graduated from Smith College with a BA in government.
An avowed feminist, Patty started her career in finance at Bank of Boston. Upon hearing that her male trainee counterparts earned more than female trainees, she marched into Human Resources.
After hearing traditional arguments of why the pay imbalances were justified, Patty successfully secured equal pay for all.
In Boston she met her husband Charlie Wesley Kelakos Haberstroh, who was also a banker.
When Patty and Charlie married in September, 1974, she relocated to Chemical Bank in New York — appropriately enough in Human Resources, to manage the Performance Evaluation Function.
After the birth of her second child, she requested a part-time job. When her employer asked her to reconsider, pointing out she would have to give up her management job, she said she would accept only a part-time job in order to tend to family. When informed there was no part-time job, Patty requested the bank to create one.
In 1986, with 4 children under the age of 6 in tow — including twin newborns — Patty and Charlie moved the family to São Paulo, Brazil, to support Charlie’s career.
After 4 1/2 years there, and becoming fluent in Portuguese, the Haberstrohs moved to Westport, where she committed her life to public service and education.
Patty is survived by Charlie, her husband of 49 years and caregiver for 6; her children Chuck (Jacqueline Horelik) of Westport; Steve (Erin Graves) of New Canaan; Kim O’Sullivan (Philip) of Norwalk; Tom (Allison Hall) of Charlotte, North Carolina; grandchildren Charlie, Lane, Eve and Grace of Westport; McIntyre (Mac) and Walker of New Canaan; Jonathan O’Sullivan of Norwalk; Madelyn and Molly of Charlotte, NC; her younger brothers William (Susan), Hayes (Clare) and Robert Clark; nieces Katie, Debbie and Joanie, and nephews Braden, Lee and Christopher.
A celebration of Patty’s life will be held in early Fall in Westport. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation toALS Therapy Development Institute, Compassionate Care ALS and Human Services of the Town of Westport.
(“06880” covered the explosive growth of the #ALSPepperChallenge, in Westport and around the world. Click here for some of the stories about the global event.)