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Friday, October 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Betty Balcom, booster of arts, dies at 89

By Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Times music critic

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A tiny dynamo whose passions ran from music and antiques to tap dancing, Betty Balcom is best summed up by her close friend Ruth Gerberding: "She had a wonderful spirit."

Mrs. Balcom died from a stroke at her Seattle home Monday at the age of 89, after a lifetime of arts and civic activism that made her legions of friends.

"Betty loved everyone and was always open to everything," said Gerberding, who served with her on the boards of directors of the Market Foundation and Seattle Chamber Music Society and on the University of Washington World Series/Meany Theater advisory committee. "She had such tremendous enthusiasm, and she cared so much."

Toby Saks, founding artistic director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society's Festival, remembers Mrs. Balcom for her "great wisdom and business sense. Her ideas and suggestions made a huge difference for us. And she was so generous, hosting events in her home and letting musicians rehearse there."

For all of the festival's 23 years, Mrs. Balcom hosted festival violist Marcus Thompson in her home.

"He could not be closer to me if he were my own son," she said last summer.

Mrs. Balcom also served on the board of Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Plestcheeff Institute for the Decorative Arts, and she was an avid theatergoer.

Many Seattleites, however, knew her best as the owner of Globe Antiques, a successful business she opened in 1968 as one of the first such enterprises in Pioneer Square. Later, the shop moved to Olive Way and then to Sixth and Pine in downtown Seattle; Mrs. Balcom closed the store in 1986.

Horticulture was another passion. Mrs. Balcom's home on Queen Anne is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and her famous gardens were the subject of several magazine articles and garden tours.

Less well-known was Mrs. Balcom's love of dancing. Together with Gerberding, several years ago she joined a troupe of tap-dancing women of a certain age who became known as the Prime Time Tappers.

"Betty claimed she was not an expert dancer, but it turned out she had done ballroom competitions and had all sorts of dance outfits," Gerberding recalls.

Mrs. Balcom also had trained in ballet.

She was a famously bad driver, however.

Gerberding confesses that "she drove like hell on wheels."

Connie Cooper, executive director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society, recalls Mrs. Balcom wheeling about town in her enormous van, "apparently with no driver. Finally we realized Betty was really in there, but she was so short that you couldn't see her."

Born in Seattle on March 17, 1915, the former Betty Brown was raised in Bremerton, where she was valedictorian of Bremerton High School's Class of 1932.

She attended the University of Washington, where she was a member of Chi Omega sorority.

From 1935 to 1946, she was married to Richard Walton. Her second marriage, to Maury Balcom, began in 1953, ending with his death in 1980.

Mrs. Balcom is survived by her brother, Charles Brown, of Bellevue, and by three children: Richard Walton, Iowa City, Iowa; Joan Melrose, Portland; and Randy Balcom, Ravensdale.

She also had three stepsons: Bruce Balcom, of Keller, Texas; Frank Balcom, of Wenatchee; and Maury Balcom, of Pasco.

Mrs. Balcom also leaves 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral at 1 p.m. Nov. 13. Donations in her memory may be made to four groups she held dear: the Pike Place Market Foundation, Seattle Chamber Music Society, University of Washington World Series and Providence Hospice of Seattle.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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