Laura J. Hawkins passed away peacefully at Princeton Medical Center on Aug. 22 after a prolonged illness during which she demonstrated great fortitude and grace.
Born in Metuchen on September 14, 1946 to Alberta Stults Dey Hawkins and Albert William Hawkins, she grew up in a house on Longview Drive that was built by her father, who also designed a footbridge in the Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve that she proudly pointed to when walking there with friends. She was also proud of her family’s deep roots in New Jersey, roots reflected in the family surnames Dey, Stults, and Hawkins that are found in many regional place names and cemeteries.
She had a beautiful alto voice. After graduating from Princeton High School, she received a bachelor’s degree in music from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where she studied the French horn and music literacy, subjects she subsequently taught at the American Boychoir School in Princeton. She sang in a number of choral groups, including Princeton ProMusica.
Laura was a gentle spirit with a quick and wry sense of humor and little patience for pretense. She had a deep interest in plants and nature, which she developed and expanded, first as a Rutgers Master Gardener of Mercer County, then in Landscapes of Light, a horticultural business she established. She was an early proponent of native plants. Her keen eye for texture, shape, and color helped owners enhance existing plantings, and her knowledge and design skills are evident in many local gardens.
In recent years, Laura turned her considerable talents to photography. She posted magical photographs on Facebook of the many places in New Jersey and Pennsylvania she visited: the Pine Barrens, D&R Greenway, Cranbury Pond, Wickecheoke Creek Preserve, Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, and High Rocks State Park, to name a few. She shared her love for nature with all she met and was especially gifted in communicating with children. Through her photography, Laura supported the conservation efforts of local organizations such as the D&R Greenway Land Trust and Pinelands Preservation Alliance. Laura’s love of and respect for nature also led her to be active in environmental causes including the Earth Quaker Action Team, which successfully lobbied a major bank to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.
Laura’s powerful photographs earned her recognition from the Pine Barrens Alliance and from the D&R Greenway Land Trust. The Trust selected her as their first Photographer of Preservation, a group that came to include Tasha O’Neill, Dave Anderson, and Jim Amon. Their library of her photographs features striking scenes of Central New Jersey preserved landscapes, and of Meredith’s Garden of Inspiration in the Greenway Meadows Poetry Trail.
Laura was a member of many “communities” in Princeton – healthy food, native plants, yoga, music, environmental protection, swimmers at the Princeton Pool, and patrons of the Princeton Senior Resource Center, where she was known as an avid ping pong player. She was also a member of the informal community of Princeton’s animal lovers, including the owners of dogs and cats she cared for while their owners were away. Laura’s uncle, Amos Stults, founded the Hopewell Veterinary Group, and Laura too had a special way with animals. She had sustained relationships with the pets she cared for that their owners envied — some called her the Dog Whisperer.
Laura is survived by niece Susan Hawkins Bitsko and her husband Frank Bitsko, two nephews, seven great nieces and nephews, and five great-great nieces.
Laura attended Princeton’s Quaker Meeting and was a member of Nassau Presbyterian Church. A burial service will be held at Princeton Cemetery, and a celebration of her life will be held at a later time soon to be determined. Please contact Nassau Presbyterian Church for details. Condolences may be made online at the Mather-Hodge Funeral Home website. In lieu of flowers, donations in Laura’s memory can be made to the D&R Greenway Land Trust, the Trenton Music Makers, or the Princeton Senior Resource Center.