Poet, linguist, and teacher Nell Husted, a longtime resident of the Outer Cape, died at Cape Cod Hospital on March 12, 2020, at age 87 after complications of an injury. She was surrounded by her loving family.
Born in New York City, Nell first came to the Cape in the 1950s to visit her in-laws, Paul and Nina Chavchavadze, Russian-Georgian émigrés who had escaped from the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, settling in Wellfleet in 1939. After her divorce from David Chavchavadze, Nell married William H. Lanagan, her adored companion until his death in 2011.
Nell spoke five languages fluently, and taught at both Georgetown and American universities while raising her daughters as a single mother. During that time, she was a frequent guest at the Kennedy White House, where she was nicknamed “Vox Populi” (voice of the people), a nod to her fearless candor while advocating for others. She is mentioned in numerous books about that era.
Nell moved to Provincetown in the 1970s, where she waited tables, worked in retail shops, and devoted herself to her poetry. “She was a true bohemian,” said her daughter Marusya of Wellfleet. “She had no need for the glamor of her life in Washington, D.C.”
On the Cape she lived simply, first in an apartment above WOMR for many years, and later in a cottage in the Wellfleet woods. Nell reveled in the intense beauty of the Outer Cape, which is the central theme of her poetry. Inspiration often came from her daily walk at Ryder Beach and resulted in poems such as “Blow, Blow Cape Wind”:
Blow through the pines in winter / Mingling / your mournful howls / With the Great Horned Owls / And in summer — ripple the placid surface / Of the silvery ponds with your breath / Blue dragonflies / dip and rise / Blow hard off the bay in August / Breathe out great gusts of air / Sweep back the muslin curtains / Scatter my thoughts — my fear / Lift me and bear me away.
She is survived by her daughters, Marusya (Maria) Chavchavadze and Sasha Chavchavadze; her son-in-law, PK Ramani; her grandchildren, Nella Rasic, Alexander C. H. Ramani, and Lila Ramani; her sisters, Caroline Husted and Priscilla Griscom; and her five beloved stepchildren, niece, and nephews.
Brilliant, rebellious and beautiful, Nell will be remembered by her family and many friends for her loving kindness. A stone will be placed in her memory next to her final partner and soulmate, Johnathan Perry, in the Provincetown Cemetery.
At her request, there will be no public funeral, but a private memorial will take place in the coming months for friends and family near Blackfish Creek, the place she considered home. Donations in her memory can be made to American Friends of Georgia at https://afgeorgia.org. Condolences and memories can be sent to [email protected].