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March 02, 2022 - 00:00
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Patsy Cravens passed away peacefully at her home in Houston Feb. 16 surrounded by her family and friends. She was a loving mother, adoring grandmother, loving aunt, loyal friend, animal lover (especially dogs), artist and enthusiastic explorer (wanting to stop at every historical marker along the road to the chagrin of her children).

She found her life’s fulfillment in photography, writing, dancing and music of every kind. Patsy was an advocate, environmentalist and humanitarian. Though her home was in Houston, her heart resided at her family’s properties in Colorado County, George West, and her longtime summer home in Estes Park, CO.

A humble woman, with an uncanny wit and a devilish sense of humor, she would have wanted her obituary to be simple, and yet her family believes the world should know about this remarkable and accomplished woman.

Born in Houston Mar. 12, 1936, Patsy, (or Pat-Pat as she was affectionately known) attended grade school at St. John’s School in Houston, and high school at Chatham Hall in Chatham, VA.

She graduated from Smith College in Northampton, MA in 1958 where she was elected a member of the national arts society, Alpha Phi Kappa Psi. Patsy’s post-graduate studies went on to include numerous courses in a wide variety of subjects at the The Glassell School of Art, University of Houston and Rice University.

Patsy was an accomplished photographer. When asked about her work she would say that her photographs were about “light and mystery.” Her artistic career spanned nearly fifty years with some of her best work exhibited in both private and public collections, including Smith College and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

During the 1980s, Patsy collaborated with close friend and colleague Mary Margaret Hansen on a series of black and white photographs focusing on their personal life journeys and the second wave of feminism.

Thirty five years later, the pair revived their exhibit adding new personal touches to create the moving and intimately personal exhibition “Finding Our Way”, that was shown both in Houston and Dallas.

Patsy considered among her most important work her photography and oral history collection: Colorado County Collection: Everyone has a story to tell. Having spent much of her life at her family’s farm in Weimar, Patsy developed a strong love for the people of Colorado County. She decided she wanted to know more about them and to hear their stories.

She set out on what she called a “journey of great learning” and began seeking out neighbors and other locals willing to be interviewed on film and photographed. Over the course of 20 years, Patsy cultivated lifelong friendships with her subjects. More than just names and dates, the stories they told reflected a simple but deep relationship with life and a spiritual resiliency that impressed her so much.

Starting with the film footage, she wrote, directed, and produced the award-winning documentary film, Coming Through Hard Times. In 2006, Patsy further developed her project with the book Leavin’ a Testimony: Portraits from Rural Texas, published by University of Texas Press. Like the documentary, this book provided firsthand testimony about the lives of people living in a rural county accompanied by portraits by Patsy. Her documentaries have received numerous awards and grants over the years and have been featured in several publications including the Austin American Statesman, Fotografi (Norway), the Houston Chronicle, and the Texas Journal.

A dedicated servant to the community, she served on the board of directors of the Alley Theater, Association for Community Television (KUHT/TV), Botanical Society, Cambiata Soloists, Cultural Arts Council of Houston (CACH), Institute of Religion, Riverside General Hospital, and Young Audiences of Houston. Joining her sister Nancy Chamberlain, Patsy helped both children and adults learn to read with Literacy Houston and often maintained relationships with those she tutored.

True to her desire to treat our environment with care, she taught many people how to grow sustainable gardens including utilizing water conservation and minimal use of pesticides. She loved the surprises that came with each season. Her garden was a certified natural wildlife habitat and open to the neighborhood. On a corner lot, it had multiple entrances with winding stone pathways and signs inviting people to walk through, as all were welcome. It was not uncommon for strangers to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. Patsy attended St.

John’s (Downtown) Unit ed Methodist Church. Though she complained about the length of the services to those who accompanied her, she appreciated that the sermons often challenged those present to take a stand against injustice.

Lunch at the original Frenchy’s Chicken was her treat for sitting on the wooden pews with no cushions, which she thought was an hour longer than necessary.

Patsy had very strong beliefs about human and civil rights.

In an article about her mother and her two aunts she wrote about herself, “I worry over human rights and civil rights, the injustice and inequality in our world. I fret over the complacency we privileged few enjoy when lulled by the belief that “things are better” so we can rest on our successes. I deplore the racism and homophobia I see all around me and within me, in hidden nooks and crannies, reinforced by my good luck in being born white and well off in America. And I keep on learning and changing, thanks, in part, to those three.”

Patsy was a woman well ahead of her years. In a story for Livable Houston Magazine she said, “I have a sense of civic responsibility and try to give back from life’s goodness to me. I feel very fortunate. I champion the underdog and mistrust authority. I hate capital punishment. I try to speak up and out when it is important to do so.” Her homes were often scattered with articles from local and national newspapers that compelled her to speak up or take action.

She often wrote letters to members of governments and public figures. And she quietly made donations to persons whose misfortunes were written about in news articles she clipped.

From 1959 to 1984 she was married to Achille Arcidiacono (1935-2021) during which she hosted countless parties for civic and international dignitaries and began to get involved in the community. Together they raised four very active sons. Patsy once wrote, “my sons are lovely, kindhearted men, and I cherish them, their wives, and their children’’.

Patsy was preceded in death by her parents, Mary Cullinan Cravens and James Rorick Cravens, her grandson, Johnny Arcidiacono,and her sister, Nancy Cravens Chamberlain.

She is survived by her son James (Pepe) Arcidiacono and wife Kathy; son John (Johnny) Arcidiacono; daughter-in-law Mary Beth Lee; son Joe Arcidiacono and wife Jana; son Peter Arcidiacono and wife JoLea; and her grandchildren: Christopher, James Jr., Andrew and wife Abigail, Joey, Will and wife Sarah, Allie, Emily and Nove Arcidiacono. She is also survived by her brother James (Chico) Cravens as well as numerous cousins, nieces, and nephews.

The family wishes to express their gratitude for the women who helped her over the recent years and especially at the end of her life: Mary Beth Lee, Jana Malloy Arcidiacono, Danielle White, Aimee Mobley Turney and Barbara Brown. And special thanks to her devoted caregivers Lavern Bignall, Esychama Buckman, Tinu Lambo, Angela Mitchell, and Allison Brown. Their loving care made Patsy’s life fuller and richer.

A celebration of Patsy’s life will be at 10:30 a.m. Mar. 12 at The Houston Botanic Gardens.

In lieu of customary remembrances, there will be a link to a charity on her online obituary where memorial gifts can be made or donate to a charity of your choice.