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Deborah A. Dunning

February 22, 2020
Deborah A. Dunning
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Obituary for Deborah A. Dunning
Deborah Alcott Dunning died on Saturday, February 22, 2020 after a brief illness. Her daughter, Hilary, and her son, Doug, were by her side, letting her know she was loved and helping her pass peacefully. Some of her grandchildren also visited her in her final days, for which the family was very thankful.
She would want to be remembered for having lived a life of purpose, devoted to climate resilience and greenhouse gas reduction as well as to historic preservation and sustainable urban design. She would also want to be remembered as someone deeply committed to the well-being of her family and to her many friends.
Deborah was born in Hartford, CT on January 18, 1937 to Richard Bancroft Dunning and Jean Alcott Adams. Her father came from a large New England family, and she took great pride in being part of it. Having built a successful sand and gravel business, he afforded her many refinements in life, which helped her develop a gifted sense of style and elegance for which she was admired. She often shared memories of large family gatherings and stayed close with many cousins throughout her life, including attending Dunning family reunions. She also spent childhood summers with her beloved maternal grandparents, Katherine and Earl Adams, and many of her Adams family cousins at the Lazy A, the family summer cottage on Lake Garfield in the Berkshire hills in Massachusetts. She shared many wonderful memories of these summers, valuing the lessons in grace and refinement she felt she drew from her grandmother. She carried a deep love for the cottage and the Berkshires throughout her life.
She went to Cushing Academy, where she cultivated lifelong relationships and benefited from their educational focus on developing curious, creative and confident learners and leaders. She was very proud to be one of a handful of American debutantes presented to the Queen of England in the 1950s. She deepened this connection to England and parts of her ancestry by studying at the University of London, where she cultivated relationships that remained a part of her world in business as well as in her personal life. She graduated from Sweet Briar College in 1959, and went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Library Sciences at Simmons University shortly thereafter. She was married to Charles Eric Neu from 1961 to 1977. He led a long and distinguished career as a Professor of History at Brown University in Providence, RI. Following his graduation from Harvard University in 1964, they moved to Houston, TX for his first teaching job at Rice University. She became very active with the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and, through her work there, she cultivated a strong relationship with the Dominique de Menil, the French-American art collector, philanthropist. She often spoke of how her work and this relationship helped shape her sense of style and grace. The family moved to Providence, RI in 1970. Deborah later became the Director of the Providence Preservation Society.
Her professional life spanned many organizations over a long and impassioned career – all connecting her intelligent and innovative mind with her desire to be valued for leaving the world a better place through sustainability in the environment and historic preservation. Deeply committed to her work, she founded a new company with several colleagues, Circularity Edge, in January 2019, where she served as its Chief Innovation Officer. The firm was founded with an intention to help accelerate the transition from the unsustainable linear economy we have today to create a sustainable, circular economy by design.
She is survived by her daughter, Hilary Adams Neu of Barrington, RI, and her son and daughter-in-law, Douglas Bancroft Neu and Julie Brown Neu of Arlington, MA as well as by her brothers, Peter Bancroft Dunning of Vail, CO, and John Alcott Dunning of Echo Bay, Ontario and by her four grandchildren, Nicholas Polumbo, Bradley Polumbo, Nina Polumbo, and Caroline Neu.
A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, 50 Orchard Avenue, Providence, RI at 11:00 am on Saturday, February 29, 2020. A light lunch with refreshments will follow. Her immediate family will spread her ashes in the Berkshires this summer. Donations in her memory can be made to the Providence Preservation Society of Providence, RI, where she developed her passion for historic sustainability.
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