Mrs. John R. Drexel III (Hon. M. S. Noreen Stonor), 90, of Newport and Palm Beach died unexpectedly in Newport on November 6, 2012, after suffering a stroke.
Born the Honorable Mildred Sophia Noreen Stonor in Henley-on-Thames, England, in 1922, Mrs. Drexel was the youngest child of Ralph Francis Julian Stonor, 5th Baron Camoys, and the former Mildred Constance Sherman, of Stonor Park, England. Stonor Park has been in the family since the 11th century.
Noreen Stonor Drexel
Mrs. Drexel came to Newport as a teenager on the eve of the Second World War with her mother, the daughter of William Watts Sherman, a prominent New York businessman and treasurer of the Newport Casino. On her American side, she was a descendant of Roger Williams, founder of Providence Plantations (renamed Rhode Island), and of Nicholas Brown, a Providence merchant and co-founder of what was to become Brown University. Her English ancestors were Roman Catholics who became Recusants when Henry VIII attempted to abolish the Catholic Church in England. Members of her family were severely punished for refusing to renounce their religion. As a result, Mrs. Drexel’s family tree includes eight Roman Catholic saints.
Mrs. Drexel was born into circumstances that did not require her to do anything with her life, but do so she did. Early in her life she 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. Working 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 Vietnam War.
For a time, Mrs. Drexel lived in Palm Beach, where she ran the American Red Cross office. An early advocate of substance abuse prevention, she 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 prospective fathers fainted when they saw what was coming.
In New York, Mrs. Drexel 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 Women’s Division of the Lying-In Hospital of the City of New York.
In Newport, Mrs. Drexel was 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, the City of Newport, social service organizations, schools, libraries, 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 a city that Mrs. Drexel has done so much to improve. In recognition of her service to the City-by-the-Sea and many others, she was awarded the degree of Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 1989 by Salve Regina, on whose board of trustees she served for many years.
Mrs. Drexel also practiced the most elemental form of charity, aiding the ill, the troubled, the poor, one person at a time, working in soup kitchens and for Meals on Wheels. A member of the board of governors of the American Red Cross in the 1970s, she was appointed by the president of the organization, because of her “broad outlook on humanitarian matters,” to represent the League of Red Cross at the United Nations, where she worked for several years. She was an active member of the Foundation for International Child Health and the White House Conference on Children and Youth.
Predeceased in 2007 by her husband of more than 66 years, Mrs. Drexel is survived by her children, Ms. Pamela Drexel (Walker—Pamela N. Drexel) of New York, John R. Drexel IV of Millerton, NY, and Mrs. William J. O’Farrell Jr. (E. M. Noreen Drexel) of Jamestown, RI; seven grandsons; two great-granddaughters; and one great-grandson.
Following her funeral in Newport, Mrs. Drexel was flown to England, where she was buried near her mother and other relatives in the churchyard at Pishill Church on a hill overlooking Stonor Park, where she had lived until she came to the United States. She is now where she wanted to be, “at peace under an English heaven.”