Obituary For Vivien Honor Gurfein


“In the hope that I may be a help to others.”
Beloved Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, Surgical Nurse, WWII Veteran, Artist, Interior Designer, Model, Actor, Author, Ms. Senior NY, Competitive Tennis Player, Philanthropist, and fun-loving, Caring, Christian Woman.
Born and raised in Lincolnshire, England, Vivien Gurfein, the child of a liaison between an aristocrat and a chauffeur, grew up a free-spirited, barefoot, horse-riding child, until sent to a convent for discipline. As a teenager, she was trained as a surgical nurse and supervised by strict nuns while treating wounded troops and civilian casualties during WWII.
During the evenings, when she was not on duty, she would sneak out through the morgue to go dancing with the American Doctors who were supporting the British war effort in Nottingham. So as not to get caught by the nuns when returning to her dorm late at night, she would surreptitiously climb back over a ten-foot wrought-iron spiked fence.
She eventually fell in love with an American Doctor, Ben Schaefer, got married, had her first child, Dawn, and moved to America. While raising her Daughter in Garden City, Long Island, she entered the competitive world of modeling in New York City. She had two more daughters, Caprice and Cydria, and resumed her nursing career as a psychiatric nurse at Creedmoor Hospital, Queens, NY, and a surgical nurse for the Long Island plastic surgical group.
For those who know how fully Vivien lived her life, they find it hard to fathom that in her late thirties, she became very depressed, felt driven towards suicide by tensions in her tumultuous marriage, and decided to end her life. However, fortunately, this was one of the very few things at which she was unsuccessful.
According to Vivien, she was eventually “liberated” by remarriage to Arthur Gurfein, who gave her free reign and a new lease on life. In addition to continuing her career as a surgical nurse, this time for 30 years with Doctors Eugene and Adam Bodian of Great Neck, she zealously immersed herself in art, altruistic endeavors, and raising a son, David, and a step-son Gedaliah.
Her life was filled with creative endeavors, including personal writings, acting, poetry, and art. As a prolific artist, she created many water color and oil paintings, mosaics, and sculptures; restored murals in various mansions; and taught interior design, fabrics, and textiles at CW Post College, where she eventually earned her bachelor’s degree at age 59.
Vivien was always very physically fit, active, and loved the outdoors throughout her life. Doctors called her “The Enigma” because she was in such incredibly great health, was on no medication, and maintained her day-to-day “joie de vive.” She was an avid gardener and loved to hike, swim, golf, and play tennis… even competitively as a member of Shelter Rock Tennis Club. It would not be surprising for Vivien, right up into her nineties, to walk five miles to Church, or anywhere else, or be upset if someone refused to play tennis with her because they felt it too hot or too cold to play outdoors.
She was also immersed herself in many charitable organizations and volunteer activities. In addition to being on the vestry of All Saints Church in Great Neck and participating in all the church’s activities – to include the “Book Nook,” the “Thrift Shop,” and even dressing as “Strawberry Shortcake” for the Church’s annual “Strawberry Festival,” she was an extremely well-respected docent at Old Westbury Gardens who taught “Manors for Minors” dressed as “Mary Poppins’ Mother,” and, most remarkably, volunteering to spend four extended tours overseas in Israel supporting the Israeli Defense Force. She was also extremely involved with, and represented, the English Speaking Union, The National Arts Club, and the British War Veterans of America.
At age 85, she wrote and published her memoirs, “Limey… and Proud of It!” She then, at 87, went on to win “Miss Congeniality” and was the 2nd Runner-up in the “Ms. New York Senior America Pageant” after bringing the house down and receiving a standing ovation with a song she used to sing to young school children, in British bomb shelters, to keep the children’s’ spirits up during the war, “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.”
She spent the last few years of her life enjoying her time with her grandchildren, Chris, Margot, Maura, Avery, Jonathan, Bruce, and Avery; playing with the dogs, Murphy and Scout; and actively engaging future potential constituents for her son, David, who ran for a seat in Congress.
The night of December 14, 2018, just a little over a month before she turned 94, she passed away quickly and painlessly in her sleep after being diagnosed with pneumonia which eventually turned out to be lung cancer. Not surprisingly, Vivien, who devoted most of her life serving and caring for others, donated her body to science and medicine, “In the hope that I may be a help to others.”
She is survived by her three Daughters – Dawn, Caprice, and Cydria; Her Step-Son, Gedaliah; Her Son, David; Her Grandchildren Christopher, Margot, Maura, Bruce, Jonathan, Yerachmeil, Avery, and Avery; and 10 Great-Grandchildren
Please join our family in remembering and celebrating this incredibly amazing person, with a service and reception in Vivien’s honor.
Saturday, February 2, 2019 at 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
All Saints’ Episcopal Church 855 Middle Neck Road Great Neck, NY 11024

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Elizabeth Johnson is former editor of Manhasset Press and Manhasset Press Magazine. Growing up in nearby Garden City and attending New York University, she is well-versed in the locale and knowledgeable about the beat she covers. Her community involvement is extensive and includes the Manhasset SCA, Kiwanis International, Manhasset Chamber of Commerce, St. Mary’s Church, and various civic and local charitable organizations. Curious by nature, her travels, community service, love of the arts as well as local sports give her the inside view to unique content. During her time at Anton, she has received several awards from the New York Press Association and the Press Club of LI, including the coveted "Best Community Newspaper" several years in a row.


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