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World traveler focused on local charities, arts

Mary Pickels
| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Eliese Cutler's life combined adventure and service, as she traveled the globe to work with her husband and later devoted herself to charitable work in Pittsburgh.

She and her husband, the late Dr. John C. Cutler, performed public health work and research in primitive locations in Latin America, India and Afghanistan.

Eliese S. Cutler, 95, of Point Breeze died on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, surrounded by her family.

Earlier this year, at the age of 94, she became a mother for the first time, adopting nephew Dr. Stuart D. Strahl.

Strahl's late father and Mrs. Cutler were siblings, he said. She and his biological mother were close friends.

“After a while, someone suggested I was like a son to her,” Strahl said.

“She adopted me this year. It was a bit of a surprise. It was one of the more emotional days of my life.”

The daughter of the late Eliese Mertens and Egbert Strahl graduated from Wellesley College in 1939.

After she and Dr. Cutler were married in 1942, she joined him in his work for the U.S. Public Health Service, World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization.

“The interesting thing about their work together is that they would go to very remote areas. Eliese would sort of organize his logistics. She was very good with people. They did some things in the middle of nowhere that were nothing short of miraculous,” Dr. Strahl said.

John Cutler's background included women's reproductive health, Strahl said.

On international flights, Mrs. Cutler often had to rescue the stewardesses from — and take over for — her husband, who would lecture the women on reproductive health, Strahl said.

After the couple moved to Pittsburgh in the mid-1960s, Mrs. Cutler became a tireless community volunteer.

She served on numerous philanthropic boards, including the Visiting Nurses Association and the Pittsburgh Dance Council. She served as a Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania board member for more than four decades.

“She was very fond of the performing arts. She was one of those people who folks depended on to get lots of work done,” Strahl said.

Good friend Lois Michaels of Shadyside was among a group of women who socialized together and whom Mrs. Cutler had christened “Les Girls.”

Michaels said Mrs. Cutler was a wonderful conversationalist.

“We would get together and talk about current events and politics, family and travel,” she said.

“We went to the theater, chamber music programs, the opera. You couldn't call her between 1 and 4 p.m. on Saturdays. That was when she listened to Metropolitan Opera on the radio. I guess if she was a man, we would have called her a Renaissance man,” Michaels said.

In addition to her son, Mrs. Cutler is survived by three grandchildren.

In addition to her husband, she was preceded in death by her brother, William Egbert Strahl, and a nephew, Eric R. Olds.

Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday and noon to 1 p.m. Saturday in John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc., 4900 Centre Ave. at Devonshire Street, Pittsburgh. A celebration of Mrs. Cutler's life will start at 1 p.m. Saturday in the funeral home.

The family asks that memorials be in the form of contributions to Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, 933 Liberty Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or

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