Van Cortlandt family remembers late relative with tree at Vannie


Cortlandt “Cort” Shurtleff was the only student in his kindergarten class who could not spell his first name.

“It was very traumatic,” joked his brother, Matthew Shurtleff.

Cort’s first name, of course, wasn’t something easy like “Matthew,” but instead a family name. That’s because the Shurtleffs are descendants of the Van Cortlandts, the family who lent their name to the Northwest Bronx park more than a century ago.

What stumped him? The “T” at the end of his name.

Family and friends of Cortlandt Shurtleff — who remembered him as an avid outdoorsman always ready to tackle the next big adventure — planted a tree in his memory at the Van Cortlandt House Museum last month.

“When my brother died six months ago, my mother thought it would be wonderful to have a tree planted in his memory here in Van Cortlandt Park,” said his sister, Lucy Shurtleff.

“Cort loved the outdoors. He loved hiking and being in the woods and rock climbing, mountain climbing, ice climbing. Because of his love of the outdoors and being a descendant of the Van Cortlandt family, Mom wanted to give donations to the park and this tribute.”

Matthew recalled a trip the two took to Longs Peak at Rocky Mountain National Park, which demonstrated the type of person his brother was. The two had to decide which route to take along the snow-covered area.

“You can take, kind of, the roundabout easier route, or you can walk straight up the snow face, which is like a 45-degree angle,” Matthew said. “I mean, it’s really steep.”

While the younger Shurtleff took the somewhat less precarious route along the side, Cort “just went straight up the face” with his crampons and ice ax. A crampon is device attached to the shoes or boots of a climber to improve his or her mobility along an icy or snowy surface.

“That was the kind of personality he was,” said Matthew, adding that his brother enjoyed challenging himself. Cort also once climbed mountains in Peru, one of which had a peak at 19,760 feet.

Although Cort never visited Van Cortlandt Park, Margot Perron, the executive director of the Van Cortlandt Park Conversancy, said he was an annual donor. The nonprofit’s mission is to support and sustain programming that helps enhance the park.

Born May 17, 1951 to John and Victoria Shurtleff in New York City, Cort grew up in Mendham, New Jersey, according to his obituary.

Cort received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, becoming a chartered financial analyst. He joined the Quantitative Management Group of Babson Capital Management, a subsidiary of the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., where he spent most of his career.

When Cort retired in 2013, he was the company’s managing director, his obituary said. Afterward, he and his wife Sarah then moved to Longmont, Colorado, to be near some of their children.

He died Jan. 4 after complications from a heart procedure, his younger brother said.

Cort is survived by his wife of 45 years, their four children, his mother Victoria, two brothers, one sister and six grandchildren.

Built in 1748, The Van Cortlandt House Museum is the oldest surviving building in the Bronx and a national historic landmark, according to the museum’s website.

New York City acquired the 1,146 acres as parkland in 1888, but did not name it after the Van Cortlandt family until 1913, according to the conservancy’s website.

“He was unconventional,” Matthew said. “He liked to do things his own way.”