Obituary for Sabine d'Oelsnitz

Sabine Courthion d'Oelsnitz, 88, died April 5, 2019.

Obituary for Sabine d'Oelsnitz

After a long, full life lived in Paris, Switzerland, Italy, New York, Ocracoke, and Norfolk, Sabine spent her final years at Cypress Glen Retirement Care Community in Greenville, NC, where everyone knew and loved her. 

She was an animal lover, a great cook, a nurturing mother and grandmother, and she loved to have a good time. Sabine never met a good cause she didn’t want to support; she contributed regularly to some of her favorite animal welfare and child aide organizations for over forty years. 

She believed that “if you look good, you feel good” and embodied that spirit all her life. Many Ocracokers will remember the time that Sabine broke her leg and insisted on taking her compact mirror and lipstick in the ambulance! 

Sabine was born November 26, 1930 in Geneva, Switzerland. Her Swiss parents, Pierre and Pierette Courthion, lived in Paris, France, but her mother traveled to Geneva to have Sabine with family nearby. 

Raised in Paris, Sabine was the only child to parents who were active in the Paris literary and art world. Her father was a painter, historian, writer, and art critic whose interviews with the French impressionist Henri Matisse were recently published by the library of the Getty Museum. Her mother was also a writer who translated the private letters of Vincent van Gogh. The Paris of the 1920’s and 30’s was the gathering place of important writers, artists, and beatniks who shared ideas and made their mark on the world. Sabine grew up immersed in that world of bon vivants and brilliant thinkers, meeting the likes of Picasso, Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. 

Sabine’s parents were very active in the French Resistance during WWII. Although her parents sent her to stay with family in Switzerland for most of the war, she never forgot hearing the cries of young Jewish children as they were taken from their homes during the Nazi occupation. Following the war, Pierre became director of the Cite Internationale Universite de Paris, a meeting place for artists and intellectuals, and Pierrette was recognized by Great Britain for her service to the Allies. 

As a teen, Sabine’s parents sent her to Positano, a coastal resort town in Italy for a year by herself, letting her develop her free spirit. Back in Paris, she often skipped school to pose for artists on the banks of the Seine. After high school, she went back to Italy to work modeling hats. 

Obituary for Sabine d'Oelsnitz

Sabine’s mother, still active in world of letters in Paris, invited a young economics journalist, Tristan d’Oelsnitz, home for dinner one evening. Sabine and Tristan were married in 1955 and after having their first two children (of six) in France, moved to New York where Tristan worked for the Agence Presse (the French equivalent of the Associated Press) reporting on economics for European newspapers. Eventually, he worked in the French embassy in Washington, D.C. and commuted from Port Washington on Long Island. 

In the early 1960’s, Sabine and Tristan discovered Ocracoke. They piled five kids in a Volkswagon van with their Sears & Roebuck tent and camping bunkbeds and headed south with a destination of Key West, FL. On the way, they camped on Ocracoke at the old NPS campground in the village (where the big parking lot is today). They camped again the next year, then bought a house from Alec Ely (the founder of the Pony Island Restaurant) and made it their summer home. The family spent every summer here until they moved to France in 1976. After she and Tristan divorced in 1979, Sabine moved back to the U.S., wintering in NY (where she sold cosmetics at Lord & Taylor) and summering on Ocracoke.

In 1989, Sabine retired and moved to Ocracoke fulltime. Her daughter, Daphne Bennink, was living on the island, and Sabine came to help raise grandchildren Dylan, Tristan, and Echo. In 2003, she bought a little house in Norfolk, VA, where she had good friends with Ocracoke connections. She enjoyed being back in a small city, near an opera house and other cultural amenities, and left only because she needed more care. Her family moved her to Cypress Glen in Greenville in 2016.

She is survived by her six children: Valerie Huppert, Alex d'Oelsnitz (Susan), Oliver d'Oelsnitz (Simone), Sonia Kenner (William), Daphne Bennink (Howard), and Ingrid Frantz (Jerry); twenty-one grandchildren: Peter Sahin (Laurel), Nicholas Huppert (Jen), Astrid Ramey (Julian), Miles Huppert, Seth Huppert, Evan Huppert, Zoe Huppert, Olivia d'Oelsnitz, Calum d'Oelsnitz, Simon d'Oelsnitz, Florian d'Oelsnitz, Anais d'Oelsnitz, Lucas d'Oelsnitz, Colin Sims, Savannah Ward, Dylan Bennink, Tristan Bennink (Erin), Echo Bennink, Julian Bennink, Wyatt Frantz, and Ellsie Frantz; and two great-grandchildren: Theodore Huppert and Lydia Ramey.

She is also remembered by many friends, including the staff at Cypress Glen, and her longtime neighbors in Sunset Village on Ocracoke. 

The family is planning a memorial service on Ocracoke in November. 


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