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Sophie Finkenstaedt Danforth

November 15, 2019
Sophie Finkenstaedt Danforth
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Obituary for Sophie Finkenstaedt Danforth

Sophie Finkenstaedt Danforth of Westwood, Massachusetts and Little Compton, Rhode Island died peacefully at home on November 15, 2019 after a long illness. Born in 1928 in Washington DC, Sophie was the youngest daughter of Mr. Edward R. Finkenstaedt and Mrs. Harriett Birney Finkenstaedt. She graduated from Milton Academy in 1946 and from Barnard College with a BA in English in 1951. In September of 1951, she married her beloved husband, the late Murray Snell Danforth, Jr and settled in Providence.

For decades Mrs. Danforth was exceedingly generous with her time and financial resources. Sophie was a former Trustee of Providence Animal Rescue League, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, John Hope Settlement House, Providence Children’s Museum and Board Chair of the Rhode Island Zoological Society for many years. Although at times known to be somewhat formidable and politely demanding, her requests most often yielded immediate results even from the likes of Providence’s former mayors.

Mrs Danforth's legendary vision and steadfast determination was instrumental in transforming the once dilapidated Roger Williams Park Zoo into an exciting new era of dramatic renovation and expansion. In 1962 she founded the Rhode Island Zoological Society and in 1989 increased its global efforts by establishing the Sophie Danforth Conservation Biology Fund which supports worldwide conservation and education programs to protect threatened wildlife and their habitats. Siberian tigers, clouded leopards, lemurs and polar bears were among her favorite animals. In the eighties, she befriended Gerald Durrell, a British naturalist who became her mentor and kindred spirit. She enthusiastically joined Durrell’s initiative to save endangered species by creating sanctuaries and breeding centers. Sophie was among a small number of American champions who served as an Honorary Fellow to “Save Animals From Extinction” which later became the Wildlife Preservation Trust International.

Sophie lived a grand life with joie de vivre. She enjoyed opera and ballet, extensive reading of novels, especially mysteries, competitive bridge and perpetual travel with countless trips to Europe along with dozens of African safaris. She was an accomplished equestrian who loved her horses and dogs like children. While living in Rhode Island for over forty years she was a past member of the Junior League, Perennial Planters, Hope Club, Agawam Hunt, Sakonnet Golf Club and Sakonnet Point Club. For the next thirty years she enjoyed winters in Delray Beach, Florida where she was a former member of the Gulf Stream Bath and Tennis Club, Gulf Stream Golf Club, St. Andrews Club, The Little Club and Hillsboro Club in Hillsboro Beach, Florida.

We shall miss Sophie’s elegance and continue to be inspired by her immeasurable contributions and bright tenacious spirit. She is survived by her daughter Stephanie Chafee of Teton Village, Wyoming and son Murray Danforth of Providence, Rhode Island, their spouses, five grandchildren and one great grandchild. Her family would like to thank the caring staff of Hospice of Needham, MA and Fox Hill Village for their kindness and dedication.

The family service will be private. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in memory of Sophie Danforth at the Rhode Island Zoological Society or the Sophie Danforth Conservation Biology Fund, 1000 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, RI 02907.

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