October 14, 2020

Family and Friends Pay Tribute To the Late Dr. Stephanie Chorney

A LOSS TO SO MANY: Admired in the community as a friend and activist, Stephanie Chorney was honored a few months ago with a special celebration outside her home.

By Anne Levin

To her family, friends, and many colleagues on countless community projects, Stephanie Chorney was a born nurturer whose devotion to helping others defined her life. A  pediatrician who worked at Princeton Medicine Princeton Health until retiring five years ago, Chorney died of breast cancer on September 29 at the age of 50.

Admiration for her was such that Princeton Public Schools and the municipality issued a special proclamation in her honor, naming May 26, 2020 “Dr. Stephanie Chorney Day.” A list of causes to which she devoted time and energy, even when she was sick, includes the Princeton Green  Schools Coalition, the Princeton Environmental Commission, Not in Our Town, the Arts Council of Princeton, Corner House, the Breast Cancer Research Center, Arm in Arm, and numerous others.

“I’m a little prejudiced, but she was a very, very caring person,” said Chorney’s father, Don Chorney. “She was involved, relentlessly, for what she believed in — healthy foods in the local schools, racial justice, the environment. While she was sick, she continued to pursue these things. She helped her neighbors and did it very gladly. She was a beautiful person inside and out, with a heart of gold.”

Chorney met her husband Orlando Fuquen at an off-campus barbecue at Rutgers University in 1987. They were married for 25 years. Their son, Julian, was born in 2004.

“I’ve heard people describe her as ‘inspirational, caring, passionate,’ and many other adjectives,” he wrote in an email. “To me, those qualities stem from her love for life, people (family, friends, community), and our planet.”

Fuquen describes Chorney as a great listener with a creative side, known for her handmade jewelry and personalized greeting cards for many occasions — made, not surprisingly, out of recycled or reclaimed materials she would find and save.

Alison Politziner worked on many political issues and food drives with Chorney, becoming a close friend in the process. “She just breathed beauty into everything she did,” Politziner said. “She and her son, Julian, were a really positive presence in front of McCaffrey’s, or at the West Windsor Farmers Market, working on different causes. She was someone who put her values into effect. She didn’t question how much time she spent with this or that. She was very generous with her time, and had good insight into things as well. She was always happy to jump in and get involved, even at times when she wasn’t feeling well.”

Princeton Councilwoman Mia Sacks and Chorney were longtime friends. The two co-chaired the Princeton Green Schools Coalition and worked to introduce composting into the schools, improve recycling, and change the food service provider to a healthier option. “Stephanie was a tireless advocate for the health of our children and our planet, and worked daily to ensure that our schools understood their central role in promoting both,” Sacks wrote. “She believed that our children’s health is one of the most important investments a community can make.”

Speaking about Chorney, Sacks said that even when she was sick, she was still taking care of everybody else. “She was helping the people in her life to get through her illness so they wouldn’t be too traumatized,” Sacks said. “She sent a letter to people saying very gently that she was switching to hospice, and what would be most helpful to her would be a card or letter about things they were working on. She scripted out a way for people to say goodbye.”

Another friend, Bainy Suri, described Chorney as “a very caring, collaborative person who was bold with her leadership and had a lot of convictions. She took action. She was always very true to her beliefs of what was right. That was her only agenda.”

Mayor Liz Lempert said in an email, “Losing Stephanie at such a young age is an unbelievably painful blow. She was a fierce environmental advocate in the schools and in the wider community, serving for a time on the Princeton Environmental Commission, and she will be deeply missed by so many. Our hearts go out to her family and loved ones.”

Sacks regards her late friend as “my soul sister. At her memorial, I said she was the soul sister I had been looking for my whole life and I was happy to have her, even for a short time.”

Chorney and Fuquen established a legacy foundation under her name. It can be accessed at stephaniechorney.org.

“Everyone that knew her will miss her,” Fuquen wrote. “She was someone who inspired and healed many, physically and emotionally. Those who did not know her will feel the impact she left through her philanthropic work and teachings. Before she died, she reflected on her life. She said, ‘Actually, I am in control of each day and I’m choosing to live, love, and help others as much as I can.’ That is a simple lesson all of us can take away and look to fulfill. She set the example.”