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  • Bob Puglisi


Donna Grosvenor with her grandchildren who she loved dearly.

It is with a heavy heart I write this blog because a very special person, Donna Grosvenor, has left this world. It was an honor to know her.

For some time, Anita and I had been reading about the benefits of yoga for senior citizens. Shortly after we moved to Santa Fe we decide to join a yoga class. I looked on the internet and there were a lot of positive reviews about Santa Fe Community Yoga Center. We went to their facility and purchased a bunch of classes.

I used to do yoga a long time ago when we lived in Los Angeles. A friend turned me onto a PBS series with Richard Hittleman. I bought his books and did yoga while watching his show. I continued my yoga practice for a while. I also took a yoga class once. It was a large class, and I went a few times.

While signing up for classes at Community Yoga the woman recommended a restorative class geared towards senior citizens and those recovering from injuries, surgeries, and for other reasons. The instructor, Donna Grosvenor, was just turning eighty that year. I never knew someone so enthusiastic about becoming an octogenarian. It was refreshing to see. It was even more impressive what she could do at her age.

Anita and I loved the class. Most of the folks were our age or a little older. We went to class once a week. Donna was a patient teacher who would help with difficult yoga postures. She would always advise us not to do anything if it hurt.

We were in the class for a while when Donna took ill and had to have a stent put in. We missed her during her absence and continued with the substitute teachers that took over the class. We were usually disappointed in these other instructors because they weren’t Donna. Some of them used blocks, straps, and other devices for instruction. Donna didn’t do much of that. We were so happy when she returned as bubbly as ever.

Not too long after that, my wife, Anita, suffered a similar fate as Donna. Anita had chest pains, had to be rushed to the hospital where they also installed a stent. Donna and Anita had the same cardiologist. They would often compare notes about the doctor, their health, and the procedure they both went through.

We met Donna’s partner Chris White when he had a reading of his new book The Last Lobster at a local bookstore. Donna and Chris came to a reading I had for my book Unassisted Living. I was happy to count Donna and Chris as friends. We were fairly new to Santa Fe so we were happy to get together with them for lunch and planned to do it again sometime. But it wouldn’t be. Our classes with Donna ended when she was diagnosed with cancer. We did see her and Chris one day after she was considered cancer-free, then Covid and the lockdown occurred and it became too risky to see each other.

After some time, we were shocked to find out that Donna’s cancer returned. We talked over the phone, and she was as upbeat as always. I hope I can be as upbeat as her if ever faced with the same fate.

We enjoyed Donna’s classes. She always ended her classes by reading a short poem or two while we meditated at the end of the class. One of her favorite poets was Mary Oliver. She often read Oliver’s poems. Mary Oliver passed away on January 17, 2019. Donna was remorseful about her passing and read to us more of her poems.

Donna always ended her classes by saying, “Love and Peace… Namaste!” Goodbye, dear friend. We will always remember you and miss you. So sorry we didn’t have more time to spend together.

The following obituary appeared in the Washington Post.

Donna Kerkam Grosvenor, Photojournalist & Washington, D.C., Native

July 12, 2021

Donna K. Grosvenor, 82, passed away on Friday after a long illness at her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Donna traveled the world from 1961 to 1977, photographing nature and exotic cultures for National Geographic with her first husband and lifelong friend, Gilbert M. Grosvenor. During those sixteen years, she explored Monaco (1963), Kenya and Tanzania (1964), The Nile Valley (1965), Sri Lanka (1966), and Bali (1969). Other adventures included traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway. She specialized in animal portraits, a talent earning her magazine cover photographs of white tigers (1970) and pandas (1972). Donna was the first person to photograph Ling-Ling and Tsing-Tsing, when the famous pandas arrived in the United States in 1972 as a gift from China.

Photograph of Donna Grosvenor and baby orangutan Agnes during photography at the Toronto Metro Zoo for Zoo Babies (1978).

Donna’s photograph of a Balinese dancer was selected as representative of human civilization for NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft. The mission and photograph have now journeyed beyond Pluto, as a possible contact point for extraterrestrial life. The spacecraft will outlive planet Earth. Next year, the photograph will be featured in Halle Berry’s new film, Mothership.

Donna also authored and made photographs for five children’s books: Pandas (1973). Cats: The Little Tigers in Your House (1974), The Wild Ponies of Assateague Island (with James L. Stansfield, 1975), The Blue Whale (1977), and Zoo Babies ((1978), all published by the National Geographic Society.

On assignment, she helped raise a baby white tiger, Rewati, at the Washington National Zoo. Her photograph of Rewati appeared on the cover of National Geographic.

More recently, with partner Christopher White, she published folios of photographs in Skipjack (2009), The Melting World (2013), and The Last Lobster (2018), all from St. Martin’s Press. Donna helped with research and reporting for these three books in Maryland, Montana, and Maine.

For the last thirty years, Donna has taught a senior yoga class at the Santa Fe Community Yoga Center with a loyal following. She first offered yoga instruction in Annapolis, Maryland, in the 1980s, where she was the only game in town.

Donna grew up in the Wesley Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and attended Cathedral School. Her father, John F. Kerkam, Sr., was a D.C. patent attorney; her mother, Eleanor Beck Kerkam, was from Memphis. Donna sang in the Cathedral School glee club under the directorship of Richard Dirksen and performed with Joan Sutherland at the National Cathedral. She graduated from Sweet Briar College with a major in English in 1960. In 1968, she attended the Missouri School of Journalism’s Photographic Workshop, where her photo essay comprised following and photographing a country veterinarian. That assignment gave her the taste and skills for capturing animals in captivity and in the wild, on film, which carried her through her career.

Donna Grosvenor is survived by her partner of forty years, Christopher White; her daughter, Dr. Lexi Grosvenor Eller of Salt Lake City; her son, Hovey Grosvenor of Bend, Oregon; three grandchildren, Samira Eller, 13, Wyatt Eller, 11, and Lilou Grosvenor, 11; ex-husband Gilbert Grosvenor of Hume, Virginia; and a brother, John F. Kerkam, Jr., of Leesburg, Virginia. In lieu of flowers, please donate to Panthera, the charity for saving big cats in the wild worldwide.

You can listen to Donna talk about her life by clicking the following link:

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1 Comment

Monica Carter
Monica Carter
Jul 21, 2021

Nonetheless, a good life lived.....

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