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Originally published Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Shirley Bridge, 86, Seattle civic activist and philanthropist

She battled cancer for 53 years, undergoing more than a dozen major surgeries and other procedures as the disease ravaged one bodily system...

Seattle Times staff reporter

She battled cancer for 53 years, undergoing more than a dozen major surgeries and other procedures as the disease ravaged one bodily system after another.

But memories of longtime Seattle philanthropist and retired pharmacist Shirley Bridge, who died Monday at age 86 with her family by her side, focus not on her illness but her accomplishments and her community spirit.

"Nothing could stop her," said her husband of 60 years, Herb Bridge. "As soon as she would get out of the hospital, she would be back to work on some civic project, and a lot of people didn't even know she'd been sick."

Mrs. Bridge served on the board of directors of the family company, Ben Bridge Jewelers, founded by her husband's grandfather. But she's better known for her work on social issues, particularly those dealing with women, children, health care, human rights and projects in the Jewish community.

"Philanthropy was simply an integral part of her being," said her husband.

He recalled one time her charitable spirit went farther than he would have preferred.

"She was raising money for Harborview [Medical Center] and she volunteered me, without me knowing, to climb Mount Rainier. People were calling and pledging money, and I didn't know what it was about."

Mr. Bridge, then in his 60s, dutifully made the climb.

Born Shirley Geraldine Selesnick on May 24, 1922, at Seattle's Swedish Hospital, Mrs. Bridge was raised in a working-class family. Money was not plentiful, but the family kept a small blue box by the front door, and family members were expected to deposit their extra nickels and dimes for charity.

After she graduated from Seattle's Broadway High School on Capitol Hill, she borrowed $200 from an aunt to enroll at the University of Washington. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in pharmacy, becoming one of the state's first female pharmacists. She worked in the profession for 40 years.

Mrs. Bridge was a founding member of the Seattle Women's Commission in the 1970s and served as its second president.

She helped create the Women's Endowment Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and inspired the foundation's "Shirley Bridge Power of One Award," which spotlights outstanding contributions by Jewish women.

"I remember her as being a generous, compassionate person who cared a lot about women's issues," said Richard Fruchter, Jewish Federation CEO. "The Bridge family has always been one of the leading Jewish families in the community."

Mrs. Bridge also helped start the Diabetes Research Council, as well as Voice for Choice, a political-action committee supporting a woman's right to an abortion.

She was a founding board member of AIDS Housing of Washington (recently renamed Building Changes) and co-chaired the $8.5 million campaign that built the group's Bailey-Boushay House in 1992. A video about Bailey-Boushay, showing at the current Seattle International Film Festival, is dedicated to her.

"She has been a mainstay of this organization since we started in 1988, a tireless advocate for people with AIDS," said Betsy Lieberman, executive director of Building Changes. In recognition of her support, the agency named a project in the Alki neighborhood for her — the Shirley Bridge Bungalows for families and single adults with AIDS, opened in 2002.

Mrs. Bridge was a mentor and role model for decades to women in leadership positions in the Seattle area, Lieberman said.

She also served on the boards of the Seattle Opportunities Industrial Council, the University of Washington Development Board, Women's Law Center and Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.

Decades ahead of her time in the push for women's rights, she had opted not to promise to "obey" her husband at their 1948 wedding, but vowed to "love, honor and cherish" him, according to a Jewish Women's Archive article.

In addition to her husband, survivors include two sons, Jon Bridge and Rabbi Dan Bridge, both of Seattle; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

A private family observance is to be held today. A public memorial is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Temple De Hirsch Sinai, 1441 16th Ave., Seattle.

Donations may be made to a favorite charity.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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