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Saturday, April 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


"Grande dame" is remembered for her altruism

Seattle Times staff reporter

Whether the question was the décor in her home or the state of the world, Lillian Morris Gideon knew her mind.

When illness left her unsteady on her feet, her friend, the Rev. LaVerne Hall, suggested she might want to take up the rugs in her house lest she trip over them and fall.

"She turned around and she looked at me," Hall recalled, "and kind of held her cane up and said, 'This is my house, I know where these rugs are on the floor and if I should fall, I will just fall. No, I will not take my rugs up, I like my rugs here.' "

Mrs. Gideon, who was widely known as a volunteer and philanthropist in Seattle's African-American community, brought that same directness to social and political issues.

She was a founder of the Central Area Motivation Program and an active member of organizations ranging from Mount Zion Baptist Church to Planned Parenthood. She died in her home Monday, April 3. She was 98.

A 1989 Seattle Times article described her role as a board member of the Church Council of Greater Seattle when then-state Sen. Jack Metcalf asked the board to apologize for a letter in which it said he had led a group that used "racist invective against Native Americans" over fishing rights.

When Metcalf told the racially mixed board that said he understood racism as well as anyone in the room because his father was a racist, Mrs. Gideon interrupted him to say, "Excuse me, sir. There is knowledge of racism that can only come from the victims."

Metcalf apologized and said she had a point — but continued to defend his position on the letter.

"She wasn't hesitant about being assertive," said 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Senior Judge Jerome Farris, who met her when they were both social workers 51 years ago. "She didn't just come spouting off, but she did her homework. She had an opinion and she voiced it.

"She enjoyed life; she was a giver; she thought of others first; she was concerned about her church; she was concerned about children and young people," Farris said.

Mrs. Gideon, described by other friends as "gracious" and "a grande dame," frequently hosted friends and civic organizations in her large Laurelhurst home.

Born July 20, 1907, in Mobile, Ala., Mrs. Gideon was the youngest of Lorenzo and Alice Morris' nine children. As a teenager, she moved in with family friends in Boston, where she completed high school and graduated from Boston University.

She married Russell Gideon in 1934 and served with the American Red Cross in England and France during World War II. After the couple moved to Seattle, Mrs. Gideon worked in the VA Hospital, he as proprietor of a Central Area pharmacy.

The Gideons adopted and raised Melvin Dodd, a nephew of Russell Gideon. The couple became known for their philanthropy and their leadership in a wide range of civic groups.

She launched a second career as a travel agent after she retired from the VA at 70.

After her husband died in 1985, Mrs. Gideon completed a project he had begun: building what is now called the Gideon Bell Tower at Mount Zion Baptist Church.

She once described Planned Parenthood, where she volunteered for years, as her favorite charity and said she would leave part of her estate to the organization. She had a leadership role in organizations including the Cosmopolitan Century Club, the YWCA, Greater Seattle Chapter of The Links and Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Friends recall her humor and her frugality while traveling. When Dorothy Hollingsworth asked her on a trip to Canada where another traveling companion was, Mrs. Gideon replied: "She's in there [a store] trying to pay for what she can't afford."

Mrs. Gideon is survived by her son, Melvin Dodd; brothers Walter Morris of El Cerrito, Calif., and Roger Morris of Boston; sisters Mabel Johnson of Boston and Lazetta Davis of San Diego; one granddaughter; and many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

Services will be held 11 a.m. Monday at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle, with burial following at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Bellevue.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests gifts be sent to Planned Parenthood of Western Washington.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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