Cover photo for Patricia R. (Cutler) Warner's Obituary
Patricia R. (Cutler) Warner Profile Photo
1921 Patricia 2020

Patricia R. (Cutler) Warner

May 21, 1921 — September 26, 2020

Mrs. Warner's obituary written by Boston Globe staff Bryan Marquard and published on Saturday, October 24, 2020

Patricia Warner was 21 years old when word arrived that her husband had died after a Navy battle in the Pacific during World War II. Though bereft, she decided to turn her grief into action as a way to avenge the death of Robert L. Fowler III. "My husband was killed in the war, and I wanted to do something useful," she said last year during a ceremony in which she was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal, presented by US Representative Katherine Clark. Signing up with the fledgling Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA, Mrs. Warner was sent to Madrid, where she worked with the French underground to help downed American pilots escape from areas controlled by Germany. She also made the rounds of social gatherings in Spain to spot Nazi sympathizers. "I like to think of myself in the OSS, skulking around darkened bars draped in mascara and allure, dropping truth serum into Nazi officers' champagne," she would later write in a memoir. "But I'm not sure I made any meaningful contribution to the war effort."

Mrs. Warner, who later founded a pioneering organization in Massachusetts to focus attention on eating disorders, was 99 when she died in her Lincoln home on Sept. 26 of cancer. Initially, she had tried to join the Navy, according to her son Robert Fowler IV of Los Angeles, whom she started raising as a single mother after his father died in the war. Because she was a mother with an infant, the Navy turned her down, but the OSS welcomed her. Her son lived with his grandparents when she joined the OSS. "As a widow, nobody seemed to want to take me on in America, so I went over on a troop ship to London," she told the Lincoln Squirrel in 2019.

The OSS then posted her in Spain, where officially she was a secretary. "I'd be sent to watch people they thought were very iffy and giving secrets to the Germans," she told the Lincoln Squirrel news organization. "I found out the flamenco dancers were all involved in German activities, so I signed up for flamenco lessons." After two years she returned home, graduated from Barnard College with a bachelor's degree, and began studies at Columbia University. Awarded a Fulbright scholarship, she planned to go to France, but stayed in the United States instead. By then she had met Charles Warner, a French history scholar who had been a friend and classmate of her first husband at prep school and Harvard College. "I didn't want to uproot my son again and the thought of being alone again made me realize that I wanted Charles more than any academic honor," she wrote in her memoir.

They married in 1951 and had five children. Mrs. Warner later resumed her studies, receiving an education certificate in learning disabilities from Tufts University and a master's from Lesley College, where she focused on eating disorders. That academic pursuit grew out of her experience helping her adolescent daughter Cecily, who in the early 1970s was suffering from anorexia nervosa, which was not then commonly discussed. Mrs. Warner read what little medical literature she could find. "There were no eating disorder units then, little research, and no one who said, 'I know how you feel,' " she told the Globe in 1984. To help her daughter and others, Mrs. Warner cofounded and served as president of what became the Anorexia Bulimia Aid Society. She later wrote about her experiences in a 2017 memoir, "Will You Love Me When I'm Fat? — A Mother and Daughter Story." She drew the title from a question that Cecily — now recovered and living in Lawrence, Kan. — asked years ago. Mrs. Warner wrote that her memoir was the story of "how I overcame dark patterns and tragedies in my life so I could help my daughter in the fight of her life. How anorexia nervosa almost killed her. But it also ultimately saved me."

Patricia Rosalind Cutler and her twin, Peter, were born in New York City on May 21, 1921. Their parents were John Wilson Cutler, a banker, and Emily Rosalind Fish. "I grew up in a game-loving, financially secure family with beautiful, high-spirited parents," Mrs. Warner later wrote. From the start she took on responsibilities. "Being the sister of a developmentally challenged brother colored my life," she wrote. "As long as Peter was alive I was part twin, part guardian."

The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression brought changes, too, as her family endured financial losses. "She had kind of a difficult life, really," said her oldest son, Robert. Though she went to private schools and was photographed by Horst P. Horst for Vogue magazine's annual debutante feature, her father's moods darkened as the family's fortunes dwindled. "I had learned that smiles make everyone happy," she wrote in her memoir. When she graduated from high school, her yearbook noted that she was known for her vivaciousness and that her goal was "to be a spy or the first female director of the FBI."

Mrs. Warner remained ambitious and ready for adventure throughout her life. "She liked excitement, and she loved a good story," said her son Chris of Cambridge. Her husband, Charles, held teaching positions in Vermont, Iowa, and Kansas, before the family settled in Lincoln and he spent much of his career at Brandeis.

In Vermont, the family lived in an old farmhouse in a small town and Chris went to a one-room schoolhouse. "When we first moved to Vermont, she got quickly involved with the town," Chris said. "She would slip into those situations and you wouldn't think she was a privileged kid from Manhattan." Holiday dinners often meant expanding her already expansive family. Guests might include "somebody she met through church, or somebody from Ghana who was a visiting professor," Chris said. "For our mother, it was always the more the merrier." Such occasions offered her the opportunity of lively conversations. Our mother lived a fascinating life, but at the same time was incredibly modest," said her son Josh of Los Angeles. "She wasn't into pomp and ceremony. She was interested in interesting people."

Mrs. Warner's husband died in 2006 and Nicholas, one of her sons, died in 2009.

In addition to her daughter Cecily and sons Robert, Chris, and Josh, she leaves another daughter, Rosalind Schreiber of Philadelphia; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Warner "really was a true matriarch, through and through," said her granddaughter Addie of New York City. "She was 6 feet tall and extremely beautiful, even into her 90s. She was 95 at my college graduation and she stayed out all night," Addie recalled. "People just swarmed to her. She had this magnetic effect on people that I haven't seen in anyone else. We all wanted to be close to her, and she had room for all of us, which was the best part."

A private burial has been held. A memorial service, which the family hopes to hold in May, 2021 on her 100th birthday, will be announced.


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