Harriet Stimson Bullitt, a renowned Northwest philanthropist, conservationist and founder of the Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort near Leavenworth, and the scion of a prominent family whose legacy includes the creation of King Broadcasting and a foundation that has poured more than $200 million into environmental causes, has died. She was 97.
Denis Hayes, the executive director of the Bullitt Foundation, said Bullitt died early Saturday at her home at the Sleeping Lady resort. She is survived by two children, Wenda O’Reilly and Scott Brewster, and her husband, Alex Voronin.
Coming from a family that made its early fortune in logging and real estate, Bullitt was, in Hayes’ words, “an environmental hero” who later would use that money to protect the Northwest’s old-growth forests, rivers and to champion green urban growth.
“She was calm, reasonable, winsome and logical,” said Hayes, a noted environmentalist and co-founder of Earth Day. “She was never a bull in a china shop. But she knew that these forests needed protecting and she was perfectly comfortable in funding organizations that brought lawsuits to save them. She knew that you either save them, or lose them.”
“She was deeply committed and involved in creating a safe way to dispose of the nuclear waste at Hanford, and in promoting peace,” he said. “She was very vigorous, and lived a life full of firsts.”
According to her family and news accounts, Bullitt had an indomitable personality, and was a savvy businesswoman, trained zoologist, competitive fencer and a flamenco dancer. Along with her siblings Patsy and Stimson — both of whom preceded her in death — she used a family fortune to leave an indelible mark on the Northwest. Her mother in 1947 founded King Broadcasting, which Harriet would later sell to fund the family foundation.
Harriet Bullitt founded and financed publications that helped launch the careers of writers Ken Kesey and Ivan Doig, cartoonist Gary Larson and photographer Art Wolfe.
She was the granddaughter of C.D. Stimson, owner of Seattle’s largest sawmill and a real estate tycoon whose Metropolitan Building Corp. helped reshape the city after the great fire of 1889. The company built the Fairmont Olympic Hotel and many other buildings that make up the downtown core. He was a co-founder of The Highlands, a gated community of mansions overlooking Puget Sound in Shoreline, where the family lived.
According to a family biography, Harriet Bullitt, her sister Patsy and brother Stimson used the family fortune to fund the Bullitt Foundation, which was established by her mother Dorothy, and which over the years has provided more than $200 million in grants to support environmental and conservation causes, from restoration of the Green River to protection of what is now the Hanford Reach National Monument.
The popular Bullitt Fireplace Trail in the so-called “Issaquah Alps,” which leads to the site of a family cabin, is protected by the foundation.
Three years ago, the Bullitt Foundation announced it was winding down more than 25 years of operation, and said it would give away the remainder of its multimillion-dollar endowment. The Bullitt Center, a first-of-its-kind environmentally green structure that will remain home to a number of conservation causes, is funded in perpetuity by the family.
Likewise, the Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort near Leavenworth, founded by Harriet Bullitt on land adjacent to property given to her by her mother as a wedding present, will remain in operation due to Bullitt’s legacy funding. Bullitt bought the 67 acres of land on which the resort is located, along Icicle Creek near Leavenworth, which was formerly a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. She has lived there with her husband and a family dog for a number of years, according to a camp history and family biography.
In 2001 the American Institute of Architects recognized the resort as one of the top 10 green projects in the nation.
The family said that during World War II Harriett studied chemical engineering at the University of Washington, but left after encountering discrimination: She was the first woman at the engineering school, and as the story goes, the dean told her to avoid the library because she was distracting the male students. She changed majors and tried studying home economics, but famously said she “flunked French toast,” according to the family biography.
She left the UW and moved to Vermont, where she attended Bennington College. While there, she met and married William Brewster. They had two children, Wenda and Scott. While there, Harriet won the New England Women’s Fencing Championship, defeating future Hollywood star Olympia Dukakis, according to Hayes and the family.
The couple moved to Florida, where Bullitt worked as a protein chemist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Her job included milking the poison from venomous snakes to make antivenom. Hayes said she also was a pioneering scuba diver and worked as a tugboat captain.
She returned to Seattle in 1962 after a divorce. The family said she would marry three more times, including her current husband, whom she met during a flamenco dancing party.
Bullitt would eventually return to the UW and obtain a degree in zoology, graduating in 1965.
Though Dorothy Bullitt, her mother, had founded King Broadcasting, Harriet Bullitt showed little interest in broadcasting, the family said. While her brother Stimson and Dorothy Bullitt ran KING TV and radio in Seattle, Harriet began the Pacific Search newsletter in 1966 to celebrate the Northwest’s natural beauty. Eventually, the newsletter became Pacific Northwest Magazine (now Seattle Magazine), which published early stories by Kesey and Doig, and cartoons by Larson, creator of the popular “Far Side” cartoons.
When her mother died in 1989, Harriet and her sister found themselves in charge of King Broadcasting after their brother’s interests turned to real estate. In 1990, they sold the station and used to proceeds to further fund the Bullitt Foundation endowment.