Connie Hellyer, 97, died Friday, July 27, at Tacoma’s Laurel House, while held as always in the loving hearts of family and friends both near and far. Laurel House is the assisted living wing of the Narrows Glen retirement community, where Connie lived from 2005 until early 2011, when she moved to stay for eight months in Puyallup, at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Dorothy and Richard Oliver. She entered Laurel House in early November, 2011.
Connie’s death concludes a remarkably positive and sustained attempt to remain with family and friends for more years to come, an attempt cheered by all. Connie continued in high spirits through the end, a gift as always to those who surrounded her.
Connie was for more than sixty-nine years married to the late Dr. David T. Hellyer, and together with him donated the land that is now Northwest Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville. While totally devoted to Dr. Hellyer and her entire family, she was a highly accomplished individual as well. Connie and David together raised three daughters – Constance Anne Hellyer of Seattle, Dorothy Oliver of Puyallup, and Tirrell Kimball of New Gloucester, Maine – who grew up in Lakewood, in Chicago, and at Horseshoe Lake in Eatonville, on the land that became Trek. The Hellyers served the Tacoma community widely, he in the primary role of pediatrician, she in the primary roles of musician, teacher, and active supporter of community groups. The Hellyers received the Community Service Award from the Rotary Club of Tacoma in 1996, the Margaret Douglas Award for Achievement in Conservation Education from the Garden Club of America in 1999, and the American Red Cross Wilderness Rescue Award for Tacoma in 2000. Both have also been widely recognized and thanked for their gift of the Eatonville land, and for helping Trek in its early years begin to realize its potential.
Connie’s individual activities and accomplishments were many. In some of her numerous roles, she was:
Musician and supporter of arts. Connie studied piano from childhood and grew into a fine player and teacher. She later took up cello, which she played in a family orchestra with her husband and children. She served on the first board of Tacoma Philharmonic, Inc., and as president of the Women’s Philharmonic League. She and her husband hosted a series of string quartet performances in their homes. Her interest in the arts was not confined to music; she helped to lead Allied Arts of Tacoma, and was president of the Aloha Club in 1965 and 1966. Pilot. In 1932, Connie learned to fly, and soloed in an open-cockpit Warner Fleet Biplane.
Cook. Connie studied cooking at the Garland School in Boston . The meals she created were consistently splendid. She was renowned for her homemade bread, which she continued baking until her nineties, sometimes bringing the rising dough with her as she traveled by car so she could knock it down at appropriate times.
Gardener. Connie belonged to the Tacoma Garden Club and the Dogwood Garden Club of Eatonville. She kept wonderful and welcoming gardens in her own homes.
Friend and teacher to children. Connie taught piano at Children’s Home in San Francisco , at Settlement House in Boston , and at Children’s Home in Tacoma . In 1939 and 1940, she played piano in a radio program for children. She brought music to children in the polio ward of local hospitals in 1942 and 1943. She gave special attention to children as a docent in two different area parks. Traveler. As a child and adolescent, Connie traveled widely with her family. She studied in England, Switzerland, and Paris. With her husband she saw much of the world.
Homemaker. Connie grew up in an affluent family sometimes served by cook and chauffeur, yet delighted in every home she made later with her family in a variety of places and circumstances. As a contrast, during the second world war, with David at medical school in Chicago , she raised her children alone in a basic cabin at the lake in Eatonville, cooking over a wood stove and pumping water by hand. Several of their homes, like that on Chambers Creek in Lakewood , had a touch of casual elegance. Others – on Crane Island in the San Juans and at a ranch in Wyoming – were more rustic, yet still warm and fun.
Thinker and reader. Connie was executive secretary for all the mid-western state chapters of Federal Union, Inc., in 1943 and 1944. She spoke well on many subjects. She read whole libraries with contents of great variety. Had she survived one hundred more years, additional publishers and authors would have been required to support her.
Naturalist. Like her husband, Connie was friends with fauna and flora alike. She served as a docent for years at both Northwest Trek and Fort Defiance Park . In the 1970s, she wrote a series of essays about Trek’s wildlife, for publication in Seattle ’s Pacific Search magazine. Author. In 1994, Connie completed “Greatly Blessed,” a book of personal memories produced for family and friends. In 2000, her three daughter compiled and printed “Northwest Trek Journal,” a collection of the essays Connie had written about Northwest Trek and its wildlife, with a few by her husband added.
Spouse and mother. These were her favorite, longest, and most successful roles. Her long marriage to David was so right, so consuming and dedicated, so close that neither Connie nor anyone else thought she would long survive his death in 2006. But she did – a fact allowing her to remain a loving, encouraging, and helpful mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother for six more years.
Camper. Swimmer. Horseback rider. Dancer. And more.
In sum: The world has lost a wonderful and accomplished presence. If Connie was, as she often said, blessed by her life, so was her world. Connie’s death occurred after years of declining strength and mobility, a period when she modeled for the world how to accept with grace and good humor both increasing confinement and decreasing physical freedom. She was grateful and her family remains grateful for all the support and assistance she received in those years from organizations and individuals too numerous to list.
Connie was born in Evanston , Illinois , on November 8, 1914. Her parents were Marion Stinchfield Hopkins and Lambert Arundel Hopkins. Her sister Anne was born in 1911 and died in 1994. Her brother Lambert (Larry) was born in 1913 and died in 1999. Her brother Thayer was born in 1917 and died in 2001. She married David Tirrell Hellyer at Yale University on June 20, 1932.
She studied not only in Europe and at the Garland School , but in Santa Barbara , California , and at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York.
Survivors in addition to her daughters include the spouse or partner of each, Connie Anne’s partner Frank Little, Doro’s husband Richard (Dick) Oliver, and Tirrell’s husband Richard (Rick) Kimball; seven grandchildren, Alexander Babbit, Victoria Babbit, Graham Babbit, Anne Corning, Stephanie Cunningham, David Kimball, and Stephen Kimball; eight great-grandchildren, Nicholas Babbit, Mary Babbit, Isabella Nilsson-Babbit, William Cunningham, Caroline Cunningham, Miles Kimball, Teija Kimball, and Serene Kimball; the spouses of her grandchildren; nieces and nephews; many friends at Narrows Glen and Laurel House; and many other friends around the world. An eighth treasured grandchild, David Babbit, died in 2004. Also surviving Connie are her love for family and friends, for the numerous causes she supported, for nature, and for the wide world of all – and the love so many others return to her still.
A celebration of Connie’s life will be held at a date to be announced.