Christine J. Epifania, Community Activist

April 8, 1949 - Nov. 20, 2017
Christine J. Epifania, April 8, 1949 - Nov. 20, 2017

Christine Epifania of Southampton, a health care director and counselor, a visual artist and chef, and a two-term co-chairwoman of the East End Gay Organization, died on Nov. 20 of complications of cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. She was 68 and had been ill for two years.

Ms. Epifania, who moved full time to Southampton about 25 years ago after being a longtime weekender, also became the executive director of Alternatives Counseling Center in Southampton in 2005, where she developed drug education programs for students and parents, helped expand community outreach, and provided services to the Shinnecock Nation, as well as guiding the creation of the Riverhead Center. 

Marguerite Smith, the president of the Alternatives board of directors, said that Ms. Epifania “was an advocate for social justice, including access to behavioral health care” and that she “valiantly fought for adequate resources for these causes even as she fought for her own health. Her voice will be greatly missed.”

Ms. Epifania also served for two terms as president of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork in Bridgehampton, where she developed worship services that focused on inclusion.

She was born in Manhattan on April 8, 1949, to the former Rose Trombino and Alfred Epifania, and brought up on the Lower East Side, where, according to her friend Jordy Mark, she first “experienced the power of family, community, and diversity.” Even though her family lived for a short time when she was a child in California, she always felt that she had been most influenced by having grown up on the Lower East Side. She graduated from Christ the King High School in Queens before getting a degree from CUNY’s York College in Queens, and then training as a counseling psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University, in Manhattan.

Ms. Epifania was the health services director for Montefiore Hospital at Rikers Island Correctional Center in the early 1990s, working to manage and improve health care for the whole population and creating a clinic for female inmates. She instituted a “compassionate release” program for inmates with H.I.V./AIDS, addiction, and chronic illnesses, finding housing for them in specialized nursing homes. For this advocacy work she was given a Good Samaritan Award.

She enjoyed entertaining with her wife, Ruth Jacobsen, according to her friends, and was the innkeeper for a time at Centennial House, a bed-and-breakfast on Woods Lane where Chabad of the Hamptons is now. Ms. Epifania also delighted in the rowdy poker games that she and Ms. Jacobsen held at their house. Ms. Mark said that there are “people who will lick envelopes but few who are willing to take charge and organize, and show up. Whatever Chris did, whether it was working or volunteering, her focus was on nurturing people. She had an amazing warmth and embrace.” 

In addition to her wife and a sister, Rosemary Parker, two nephews and a niece, all of Garden Grove, Calif., survive, as do three great-nieces, a great-nephew, and many cousins.

When her illness made it impossible for her to attend the Women’s March on Washington in January of this year, she prepared bag lunches for every person on the bus from the East End that had been organized by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork. “I was on that bus,” Ms. Mark said, “and cheers went up when the food was distributed.”

On Dec. 15 at 2 p.m., the congregation, at 977 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton, will hold a service for Ms. Epifania, presided over by the Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson. 

The family has suggested donations to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, P.O. Box 1444, Bridgehampton 11932; Fighting Chance, P.O. Box 1358, Sag Harbor 11963, or Alternatives Counseling Services, 291 Hampton Road, Southampton 11968.