In Memoriam: Dennie Ferry LaTourelle, 1940-2018In Memoriam | Thu Mar 01, 2018 | 12:00am
Dennie LaTourelle was a bright star. The eldest daughter of liberal activist W.H. “Ping” Ferry and Jolyne Gillier Ferry, she combined her father’s commitment to positive change and her mother’s grace with her own special character to touch the lives of many people and make a difference wherever she went. Throughout her life, she demonstrated an impressive talent for seeing beyond the chaos to order, beyond the pain to healing, beyond the impossible to the possible. She was a natural leader, a brilliant teacher, and a dear friend.
Dennie’s life story is an example of someone who followed her intuition and listened to her heart. She spent her twenties working in Switzerland and falling in love with Provence. The simple life of the French countryside inspired her to purchase and renovate a beautiful stone farmhouse near the village of Chamaret. Over the next 33 years, many lucky guests were introduced to the sensual beauty and slower pace of Lavender Hill Farm — with time to enjoy the food, the companionship, and the small, everyday tasks of living. For example, a friend remembers how a farmer offered Dennie a taste of his gorgeous figs, delicately cutting one in half and feeding it to her with an expression of sensual delight on both their faces.
Returning to the U.S. in the midst of the human potential movement, Dennie read all the books, studied with the luminaries, and trained in the co-counseling approach to emotional well-being. Then she began her life’s work of teaching ways to listen without judgment, finding authentic expression, healing the past, and living fully in the present moment.
In 1976, Dennie traveled to the intentional community of Findhorn in Scotland. There, she experienced the importance of working together communally and listening to inner guidance. The community’s practices of setting intention, aligning energy, invoking the highest good, and sending light out to the world were a natural fit for Dennie’s teaching style. And, when she returned to Santa Barbara in 1978, this spiritual dimension became a powerful addition to her circle work here.
At this time, Dennie was also a young mother, with baby Jesse in tow. From her recent experience and the accounts of others, it became apparent that young mothers needed a lot more information and support than they were getting. Having endless amounts of energy when inspired, she gathered women and birthing professionals together to create a birth resource center in Santa Barbara. But it wasn’t long before Dennie was traveling again — first to Europe, and then to immerse herself in another communal experience, living on a kibbutz in Israel with then-husband, Dov “Dubie” Lesselrot, Jesse, and new baby J.J.
When the young family returned to the States, instead of settling in Santa Barbara they bought a beautiful piece of property in northeastern New Mexico, where Dennie embraced the sweet, simple country life again. Here, she stepped away from her role of leader to live quietly, bake bread, raise chickens, and focus exclusively on mothering her beloved boys.
Seven years later, Dennie returned to a more public life in Santa Barbara, offering her acquired wisdom to the community she so loved. Over the next 25 years, she was dedicated to helping men and women find their deepest truths and heal their relationships. She developed sensible guidelines for emotional healing, clear communication, dating, problem-solving, intimacy, and bringing a sense of the sacred to everyday life.
Having begun with a Red Tent circle for women, she soon understood that men needed a place to heal and grow as well. So, with a blend of chutzpah and humility, Dennie formed a men’s circle. People who sat with her in these circles over the years shared these words: “Her work helped me develop self-knowing and self-expression which contributed deeply to my experience of authentic relationships, love, and peace.” “Sitting in circle changed my life, because no matter what I’d face after that, I had to stay true to who I am and do my life’s work.” And, “I felt fully seen by Dennie in my true essence.” This extraordinary gender-healing work touched the lives of hundreds of people and families who, in turn, touched hundreds of others.
In addition to her dedication to emotional healing, Dennie was avidly committed to the big issues of our times — social justice, gender equality, and nonviolent solutions. She was well-informed and didn’t hold back. In the words of an old friend, “She had the confidence to rock the boat and deal with the fallout with deep empathy.” She also felt comfortable offering her opinion on the small things, like the importance of makeup, attractive shoes, health-food smoothies, and organizing your living space. She’d say, “You should put cupboard doors on those shelves” and not judge you if you didn’t.
This sketch would be incomplete without saying that Dennie was charming, whimsical, and spontaneous. She was just fun to be with in any context. For example, friends tell of how she got them dancing in the streets of Florence after seeing Saturday Night Fever. Another friend remembers her as a fierce competitor, playing double solitaire at lightning speed and marking her own brilliant moves with full laughter. She appreciated athletic excellence — watching TV tennis and cheering the Golden State Warriors. It was easy to get her laughing, and it was a joy to laugh with her. Content in solitude, our Dennie also loved being with people, making lifelong friends wherever she went.
And wherever Dennie went, people were struck by her beauty. She had a dancer’s stature, dressed impeccably, and always presented her best. Heads came up and chatter went down whenever she walked in the room. In turn, she was struck by the beauty of others and didn’t hesitate to tell them. She had the knack for taking a photograph at exactly the moment her subject was most attractive. Perhaps this was the artistic equivalence of her acclaimed ability to see “true essence”?
In mid-December, Dennie was given a diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer and courageously chose to end her life several weeks later. In quintessential Dennie style, she organized her departure. She set things up with hospice and said her goodbyes. Leaving poignant parting words and appreciations, she departed with grace in the gentle embrace of her loving family as hundreds of people all over the world lit their candles and held her in their hearts.
Dennie is survived by her two sons, Jesse Meyerowitz and J.J. LaTourelle; her grandchildren Sasha and Skyler Meyerowitz; her siblings Fay Ferry Bisno, Robin Ferry, and Lucian S. Ferry; and many beloved cousins, nieces, and nephews around the world.
A memorial is planned for March 24 from 1:45 to 5:30 p.m. at The Narrative Loft (1 N. Calle César Chávez) in Santa Barbara. Donations in Dennie’s memory may be made to Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care in Santa Barbara and to State Street Ballet.