Remembering Patty Haberstroh

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.

Patty Haberstroh

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.

They did.

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.)

23 responses to “Remembering Patty Haberstroh

  1. We lost a beautiful woman. Our deepest condolences to Charlie and his family. Her life was a blessing to all of us that were touched by it.

  2. Jennifer Seymour

    Rest in peace dearest Patty. What a gift you were to the Town of Westport and it’s residents, especially those in need. I first met Patty when my children were at KHS and I volunteered for their Cheetahs Care initiative, a holiday gift program for those Westporters in need. For so many of us who donated and shopped for the recipients, these individuals, children and adults, were simply numbers on a sheet of paper (.represented as such out of concern for their privacy) – but for Patty it was clear that they were so much more. She advocated for these families as if they were her own and because of her compassion and advocacy, the majority of parent volunteers returned year in and year out. Our Town has lost a piece of its generous spirit – deepest condolences to her entire family.

    • Danielle Dobin

      Patty was remarkable & strong. I first met her when she advocated for the expanded boardwalk at Compo’s south beach and for the accessible bathrooms there. Those bathrooms and the walkway along the water with accessible picnic tables are taken for granted these days, but they exist in great part thanks to Patty. I will always think of her when I see happy families there. Sending love and support to her wonderful family.

  3. Anne Leonard Hardy

    The unsinkable Patty Haberstroh. So adored. With the greatest of condolences to her family and to the town of Westport too.

  4. Hey Chuck. That’s a mom to be proud of! Sorry for your loss.

  5. Roseann Spengler

    What an incredible woman and gift to Westport. So sad. Condolences to her family.

  6. Truely a remarkable lady. A true role model for all to follow. My sincere condolences to Charley and his family.
    Tom Bloch

  7. Stacie Curran

    Westport sheds a tear today for the loss of our remarkable Patty…Thank you for your teachings and your advocacy…
    making “our” home a better place.

  8. Stephen Axthelm

    Such a wonderful person our Patty. Sending love to Charlie and all of her beautiful family. – Ax

  9. Condolences to the whole family for the loss of a remarkable women.

  10. I never knew Patty, but her name came up
    So very often in any conversation in Westport having to do with kindness and public service that I feel as if I did ♥️. Heartfelt condolences!

  11. Susan Gold Falkenstein

    Patty is a shining light of what it means to brush off what you don’t need and move forward with hope and inspiration to not only survive but thrive. I was blessed to call Patty a friend, our kids grew up together, she worked across the street from where I was and when I came to Town Hall to see her, her smile would make my day brighter. She will be sorely missed but her kindness, courageousness and never ending optimism will live on in our hearts. With peace, admiration and abundant gratitude!

  12. Andrew Colabella

    A saint. Life of the party. Always giving back and was constantly on the move to serve and help others.

    Her viral ALS hot pepper challenge made waves worldwide. She had it all and lived a very fulfilled happy life. I am happy that she is no longer suffering, but lucky and happy to be her friend.

    Her impact will ripple through humanity for generations to come.

    I would love to see the boardwalk at compo on South Beach be named after her, “Patty’s Path.” It’s what gave her hope and light in such a dark time at her favorite place, the beach.

  13. Peter and Pat Kelley, Centerport NY

    Remembering the early days and all the good times we had at CMB with you and Patty. Always a smile and twinkle in her eye. Our heartfelt sympathy to you, Charlie, and your family for your loss.

  14. Hedi Lieberman

    My daughter, Lian Teicher, and I loved working with Patty on Book Bucks and Back Packs! She was the first person I met at Coley El. Simply the best!

  15. I first met Patty when we were both working for the town’s Positive Youth Development program (she led it; I was a mere volunteer then). I can’t think of anything about Patty that couldn’t be described as “positive development”. She changed the lives of Westport and our residents for the better, and with her unwavering courage and good spirit in pushing for treatments and a cure, bettered the lives of people worldwide. Peace to Patty and the Haberstroh family.

  16. Audrey Hertzel

    I had the pleasure of working with Patty through the Westport’s Department of Human Services/Holiday Gift Giving Program for many years. She was a beautiful person inside and out and will be missed by many. My heartfelt condolences to her family for their loss.
    ps. Love Andy Colabella’s suggestion of “Patty’s Path.” How can we make that a reality?

  17. Always helpful, Patty was truly delightful and a gift to Westporters. Our sincerest condolences to the Haberstrohs.

  18. Heartbreaking. Prayers of peace for Charlie and their family.

  19. Carl Addison Swanson, '66

    Sad. Nice lady. BTW, the doctors have linked ALS to concussions. Gehrig was beaned 6 times as a Yankee and played football at Columbia.

  20. Stephen M Rubin

    It was a pleasure and privilege working with Patty. May she Rest in Peace. Condolences to Charlie and family.
    Toni & Steve

  21. Michael Calise

    My Condolences to Charlie and the entire Haberstroh family. Patti was a wonderful person who without reserve dedicated her time and energy to our Westport community.

  22. Patty did HEAPS for Westport! To hear about and witness Patty’s tireless energy and support for all people who needed her, she was a unicorn! What an inspiration she has been. Her work/mark will live on.

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