Deborah Ann Light, Philanthropist

Deborah Ann Light in 1996 in a photograph by Robert Giard

Deborah Ann Light, a philanthropist, founding member of the Peconic Land Trust, and a pioneering Wiccan priestess, died on Tuesday in Gainesville, Fla., after a long illness. She was 80.

Ms. Light, the only child of Dr. Rudolph Alvin Light and the former Ann Bonner Jones, was born in London in 1935 while her parents were attending Oxford University. She grew up on a large farm in Nashville, where her father, an heir to the Upjohn pharmaceutical fortune, taught surgery at Vanderbilt University.

She attended St. Anne’s Preparatory School in Charlottesville, Va., debuted at Nashville’s Belle Meade Country Club in 1953, lived in Italy in the late 1950s, and received a bachelor’s degree in textile design from the School for American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1961. Her three marriages — to the sculptor Tom Muir Wilson in 1958, the painter Robert Thomas Taugner in 1962 (with whom she had a son, Michael, in 1963), and the Broadway stage manager Peter Jennings Perry in 1966 — ended in divorce.

After living for a time at 1 Patchin Place in Greenwich Village, Ms. Light settled year round in Amagansett in 1967, purchasing 30 acres known as Quail Hill and devoting herself to local politics and community service. Six feet tall and often impeccably dressed in clothes she made with a Manhattan couturier, she was known to enjoy making an entrance.

She took an interest in grapes, needlepoint, baroque gold jewelry, miniature houses, and other divertissements, along with countless board memberships and fund-raisers. Friends noted that there were also some eccentricities, notably the 36 cats she kept for a short while, which were fictionalized in a 1974 thriller, “Feral,” by her neighbor Berton Roueche, a New Yorker writer.

Ms. Light loved the East End, and over the next two decades steadily acquired, parcel by parcel and often from her friend Evan Frankel, contiguous farmland. She was known to have joked that “come the revolution, we’ll at least have potatoes to eat.”

Dependably Democratic, she ran for a seat on the East Hampton Town Board in 1978 but was defeated. Appointed by a Republican in 1981 to the Suffolk County Farmland Committee, she served on it for a decade and in 1983 was asked to help establish the Peconic Land Trust.

While she enjoyed what she called her “Wyoming view” east of her driveway, Ms. Light’s intention always had been to preserve her land, and in 1990 she started the process with a donation of 20 of Quail Hill’s 30 acres to the Peconic Land Trust. Five years later she followed with 190 acres of adjacent farmland.

Her neighbors to the north, the de Cuevas family, similarly began commitments in 1990 to the trust, which together ultimately resulted in the protection of the bulk of the Amagansett watershed. This was anonymously noted in the Aug. 6, 1990, Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker under the tag “Sharecroppers.”

The heart of Quail Hill became one of the original Community Supported Agriculture farms in the United States, and Ms. Light moved to a modest house in Sag Harbor, where she lived until 2009, delighted, according to her son, to have a postage-stamp backyard, a lower local profile, and “walkable proximity to the post office.”

In the early 1980s, she began questioning why the three dominant world religions defined divinity as exclusively masculine. She began to study and practice Wicca, a neo-pagan, Earth-revering religion, and, in 1985, received a master’s degree in religious studies from Vermont College, Norwich University. Her thesis was “Contemporary Goddess Worship: The Old Religion as Currently Practiced in the United States.”

That year, Ms. Light met Jeri Baldwin of Ocala, Fla., and they became committed life partners, dividing their time between the North and the South. Living in Quail Hill’s historic 1870s windmill, Ms. Light took up the moniker “Hedgewitch” and apparently delighted in shocking some members of the community with what she called “radical pagan Wiccan feminist lesbianism.” But she was more often than not traveling, giving presentations celebrating life’s rites of passage before women’s and pagan groups.

“The Crooning of Crones,” “Medusa Speaks to Men,” “Of Witches and Wise Ones,” and “Women’s Work in Women’s Words” were some of her written pieces. She began weaving poetry and performance in her travels, and also became a passionate quilter, working for many years with a South Fork quilting group named the Gathering of the Goddesses.

From 1986 onward, Ms. Light and Ms. Baldwin assembled 741 contiguous acres in north central Florida’s Marion County, creating an educational organic farm, feminist retreat, and nature preserve known as Crones Cradle Conserve, and providing produce and farm products to the neighboring towns of Ocala and Gainesville. It became a private foundation in 2010.

Her mother, Ann Jones Light, a longtime resident of East Hampton, did not approve of her daughter’s transformation. After her death, in 1989, Ms. Light promptly auctioned her mother’s jewelry at Christie’s, using the proceeds to start the Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation, which gave 321 grants over the next decade to individual women age 54 and older for projects designed to enrich the lives of other adult women. The archives of the foundation are in the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

In 1993 Ms. Light attended the second Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. She was clergy in the three largest United States pagan affiliations: EarthSpirit in Massachusetts, Circle Sanctuary in Wisconsin, and Covenant of the Goddess in California.

In 1994, Ms. Light was diagnosed with inoperable, terminal lung cancer and given a 95-percent chance of dying within six months. Refusing chemotherapy but undergoing 36 rounds of radiation, she lived another 21 years with what her son said was verve and characteristic aplomb, finally moving in 2009 from Sag Harbor to Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, a retirement community.

In a life of philanthropic generosity, civic service, spiritual practice, and no small amount of questioning and bold living, Ms. Light leaves numerous and diverse people across America inspired by her example.

She is survived by her partner, Jeri Baldwin, and her son, Michael Light, an artist based in San Francisco.

A memorial for Ms. Light is planned for Sept. 19 at Quail Hill.