Eleanor Morris Illoway, 72, of Phoenixville, a Chester County lawyer and land-conservation advocate who spent years leading and organizing local causes that promote open space, died Sunday, Oct. 20, at her home of ovarian cancer.
Though perhaps best known as president of Lundale Farm Inc., an innovative sustainable-farming community in northern Chester County, Mrs. Illoway spent much of her life in conservation roles that prepared for that one, which helped to nurture her lifelong love of the outdoors.
Raised on the land that decades later became Lundale Farm, Mrs. Illoway and her seven siblings devoted much of their childhoods to caring for the many animals and rolling acres that surrounded their home.
Mrs. Illoway’s parents were Samuel and Eleanor Morris, who are often regarded as pioneers in the open-space preservation movement. In 1967, the pair founded the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, an open-land protection organization, in response to increasing suburban development. Samuel Morris would go on to become a state representative who pushed for legislation that created the state’s conservation easement program, which enables local governments to protect agricultural land by purchasing “development rights" that limit the use of the land.
The Morris’ farm was the site of gatherings and parties — one in 1963 set the stage for Mrs. Illoway to meet her husband, Stock. He liked that she was well-educated, outgoing, and a good dancer. “We met, and that was that,” he said. He was smitten.
Stock was a few years older and wanted to marry her, but she wasn’t ready. “I said, I won’t believe [you’re ready] until you propose,” he recalled. After five years of dating, she got down on one knee.
Mrs. Illoway studied at the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate, and later graduated from the Penn Law School. She practiced law at Pepper Hamilton before becoming a founding partner of Harkins Cunningham LLP, a law firm with an office in Berwyn. She worked as a corporate litigator, her husband said.
The Illoways had no children, enabling the two, Illoway said, to “just focus on each other.” Still, that didn’t stop Mrs. Illoway from taking nieces and nephews under her wing. She never forgot a birthday or anniversary, and was known for the cards she would regularly send. Later in life, at a house the family shared in Rhode Island, Mrs. Illoway hosted “Cousins Camp," a weeklong play date for all the kids in the extended family.
“She was the glue that held our entire family together,” said Laura Morris Siena, Mrs. Illoway’s younger sister. “She was the beating heart of our family — always in touch with all of my nieces and nephews, calling them on the phone.”
Outside of her work as an attorney, Mrs. Illoway spent much of her career working with organizations that focused on historic preservation, open-space conservation, and sustainable agriculture. She served as board member of the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks, and was part of a team that organized the French Creek Iron Tour, an annual noncompetitive bike tour benefiting the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust.
Mrs. Illoway’s greatest preservation undertaking occurred in 2011, when her mother died. In her will, Mrs. Illoway’s mother specified that the family’s farm must carry on as space for organic and bio-dynamic farming. After a little creative thinking, Mrs. Illoway and her siblings decided that the acres would be affordably leased to farmers committed to growing organic foods. They created a nonprofit, and Mrs. Illoway and her sister both served terms as president of the board.
Today, several farmers lease sections of the farm’s 520 acres, growing everything from microgreens to organic grains to apples, which will be pressed and fermented to make hard cider in a few years.
Mrs. Illoway and her husband were longtime supporters of the performing arts, including the Pennsylvania Ballet, as well as other organizations such as the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. The two loved living just a train ride from Philadelphia’s art scene, her husband said, but also enjoyed spending time together at their home and 40-acre farm. There, Illoway raises cattle and sells grass-fed beef. Mrs. Illoway would tend to her flourishing garden.
In her final year of life, Mrs. Illoway and her husband traveled to the Galápagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, as well as Machu Picchu in Peru. The pair were frequent travelers and ventured around the world together.
In addition to her husband and sister, she is survived by four brothers, another sister, and nieces and nephews.