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Mrs. Nef says she and Mr. Nef became great friends with the Chagalls, whom they invited to southern France to spend summers for a decade. During that time, the renowned modernist presented her with a piece of art each year for her July 24 birthday. She even writes in her book that she plans to have her ashes buried at the base of the Chagall mosaic along with Mr. Nef’s.

Along the way, she discovered her adeptness at learning languages. She had to learn Russian with her explorer husband and French with her scholar husband. Every once in a while during our visit, to tease a confused chronicler, Mrs. Nef stops to count on her fingers exactly how old she was as she attained a particular milestone in her productive life.

When she married the well-heeled John Nef in 1964, “it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have to work,” she says.

However, after she had learned to set up a house and host parties for dignitaries and “I had done the Georgetown thing” as “the wife of a famous man,” she says, she longed to go back to work and “do something useful that I might have the talent for.”

With no formal degrees, she persuaded a friend to have her enrolled in the New York Institute for the Study of Psychotherapy. She was forced to end her practice at 80 years of age, when her school’s insurer went out of business.

“I was always a good listener, having missed college,” Mrs. Nef says. It is a trait she credits for presenting her with so many varied opportunities after the sadness and “secrecy” in the Brooklyn household of her childhood.

“Perhaps this early experience of secrecy was at the root of my permanent hunger to know, my curiosity about everything,” Mrs. Nef writes in her autobiography. “Was this why I grew to be a careful listener, an intent watcher, a patient gatherer of every fragment of disparate information, someone who tried to make it all into some intelligible whole?”

In fact, Mrs. Nef says she entered psychotherapy, in part, because her mother’s muteness “was the great mystery of my life.”

Although Mrs. Nef helped set up foundations in two of her husbands’ names, her incarnation as a philanthropist began in the 1990s, after Mr. Nef took ill and she prospered even more after taking over their finances and teaching herself about investing.

Besides aiding Weave, she still serves on some charitable boards and has donated to such organizations as the Washington National Opera, the National Symphony Orchestra and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

It is with her philanthropy that Mrs. Nef is mosthumble. She has helped hundreds of people, including abused Washington women served by Weave, along that fortuitous “way” with what she calls “my little foundation.”

Weave is presenting Mrs. Nef with its annual Watts Empowerment Award on Monday at an event also featuring Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of the best-seller “Crazy Love.”

Miriam Isserow, Weave’s director of development, says, “When Mrs. Nef first came to Weave, the organization was just getting off the ground, operating from the second bedroom of [a] co-founder’s apartment. Seed funding from the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Foundation allowed Weave to begin offering counseling services along with legal services to survivors of domestic violence. Thousands of survivors have now received counseling at Weave thanks to Mrs. Nef’s early and ongoing support.”

The invitation to the fundraiser states that “thanks to [Mrs. Nef’s] initial faith and passion,” survivors could “begin the process of long-term healing from the lasting emotional trauma of domestic violence.”

Weave’s stated mission is to “work closely with adult and teen survivors of relationship violence and abuse, providing an innovative range of legal, counseling, economic and educational services that leads survivors to utilize their inner and community resources, achieve safety for themselves and their children, and live empowered lives.” (Visit or call 202-452-9550.)

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