‘Epitome of the free spirit’: Family remembers Amherst woman killed in Jamaica 

  • Nancy Hardy and her daughter Chandra Hardy in the 1980s. Submitted Photo

  • Nancy Hardy and her daughter Chandra Hardy in the 1980s. Submitted Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/30/2018 5:51:11 PM

AMHERST — Whether spending time in Colombia and Jamaica, growing organic vegetables and promoting healthy eating, or making friends with prominent jazz musicians, Nancy Hardy of Amherst always found ways to live the life she wanted.

“An entire book could be written about Nancy Hardy, about her global perspective and her appreciation for people of all walks of life,” said her daughter, Chandra Hardy. “She was an extraordinary human being, fiercely independent and truly eccentric.”

Speaking from her home in Florida on Friday, Chandra Hardy, Nancy Hardy’s only child, said her mother had a remarkably adventurous spirit. That spirit was cut short this week when, just days after Nancy Hardy was reported missing from her home in Negril, Jamaica, her body was located in a nearby town, buried in a shallow grave. 

Chandra Hardy said an official at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston confirmed that her mother, who spent more than 20 years wintering on the Caribbean island, had died. Jamaican authorities are investigating the death as a homicide, according to published news reports from Jamaica.

Jeremiah Knight, a spokesperson for the US Embassy, wrote in an email to the Gazette that there would be no official comment at this time.

“Understanding that the case of Nancy Hardy is ongoing the embassy at this time refrains from commenting on the case,” Knight said. “However, we have and will continue to be in contact with the family to provide consular support.”

Authorities in Jamaica did not respond to repeated requests for comment this week. 

‘Free spirit’

Nancy Hardy, 72, spent her younger years in the 1950s in African countries – two years each in Liberia and Ethiopia – before returning with her parents to live in the United States, mostly in New York and Massachusetts.

Chandra Hardy said her mother, against the advice of her grandfather, went back to travel in Africa, and in the 1980s. She also said her mother exposed her to traveling and exploring different cultures when she took her to Colombia.

“My mother was the epitome of the free spirit in every way imaginable,” Hardy said.

This view was echoed by Nancy Hardy’s brother, Richard Pettengill, who recalls that in addition to returning to Africa for a time, his sister built a home in Jamaica and once lived out of a van in the Florida Keys.

“She could be very kind and very loving,” Pettengill, of Illinois, said. “She was an extremely independent spirit and was determined to live life in her own way, despite any wisdom or advice she would receive.”

Shanti Vani, of Florida, said her older sister could be bullheaded and stubborn, but always had her heart in the right place.

“She was so energetic, but wholehearted in what she did,” Vani said.

Vani’s earliest memory is of her sister in Africa. “She loved to ride horses and to be the leader of the pack,” she said.

Vani knew her sister loved Jamaica, and visited twice, once with each of her parents. She also made it to Hardy’s Amherst home on occasion, and had a special visit a few years ago before her father’s death, recalling the hot tub in the back yard and a visit to the Amherst Farmers Market. 

“Dad was thrilled to be with both his daughters,” Vani said.

Ruth Jacobson-Hardy of Florence, a second cousin, said she last saw Nancy Hardy in September, and they would try to catch up over lunch a couple times a year.

Nancy Hardy, she said, was both independent and “quite a character,” but also pleasant and helpful.

“She loved life, she loved the outdoors and she cared about people who needed a hand,” Jacobson-Hardy said.

Nancy Hardy also loved gardening, raising organic vegetables, and promoting eating foods without sugar. This is what originally spurred her to find her to move to New Salem, a home she bought with help from her late mother, Helen Hardy. For about 20 years, she made a living selling Electrolux products from a Hadley storefront and her home in Amherst. 

“The biggest disappointment was I didn’t acquire a green thumb like she had,” Chandra Hardy said.

As someone who attended the Woodstock Festival in 1969, Pettengill said he appreciated that his sister loved music, especially rock musician Carlos Santana and jazz trumpeter Miles Davis

He said his sister introduced him to jazz, and through her he got to meet jazz drummer Art Blakey and jazz flutist Jeremy Steig, whom she considered a friend, as well as Juma Sultan, the drummer who performed with Jimi Hendrix during his legendary rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock.

Chandra Hardy said she is most deeply grateful that she was born into a conscientious family who participated in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. In fact, she said she was instilled with values of inclusiveness from her grandparents, Helen Hardy and George Pettengill, who both served as test case couples for fair housing to prevent housing discrimination against minorities. She noted her grandfather also helped to desegregate swimming pools. 

But Chandra Hardy acknowledges that she had an “incredibly complicated” relationship with her mother, and she notes she was in foster care two times as a teenager, which was a rough experience.

“She and I had a very volatile relationship,” she said.

Her mother began renting a home on Meadow Street in Amherst, and then bought the residence, after Chandra Hardy experienced bullying in another school system. Chandra Hardy eventually graduated from Amherst Regional High School and then earned two degrees at the University of Massachusetts.

Being estranged for the past five years, Chandra Hardy said her mother was also secretive, leaving her surprised to learn that she had built her own home in Jamaica, and may have married and divorced a Jamaican man.

“I have to forgive myself that I didn’t have a chance to say good-bye,” Chandra Hardy said.

Pettengill said he unfortunately did not see much of his sister in recent years. 

“Her passing is a great source of a variety of conflicting emotions, grief, sadness and wishing I had known her better,” he said.

Vani said her family has lost many people in recent years, including both her parents.

“We’re going to miss her a lot. This is a very huge hole in our hearts,” Vani said.

Chandra Hardy said she has been in touch with the lone tenant at her mother's Meadow Street house and intends to notify those living at her mother’s other rental property at 55 North Prescott Road in New Salem about her mother’s death. She also has hired an attorney to begin sorting out how to handle the matters. 

While not yet planned, Chandra Hardy said services for her mother may be held at the Meadow Street property in Amherst, possibly in the garden.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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