Always in character, Ethel Waters left this earth with grace, dignity, and on her own terms, dying peacefully at her daughter and son-in-law’s home on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012.
Born on July 1, 1921 in Aintree, England, Ethel came to the United States with her parents when she was eight years old. Her father was a former choirmaster and she grew up surrounded by music. She studied ballet and performed in San Francisco. She wrote about having had her fill of sausage rolls, lemon tarts, and English humor.
Her interaction with us was laced with that humor, still present until the end of her life. A little bit of a rascal, shortly before she passed, she told her daughter, “I’m resting and drinking ‘Old-Fashioneds’ and then I’m going dancing.”
Ethel was preceded in death by her husband of almost 70-years, Bob Waters. For over 30 of those years they lived on Whidbey Island. When Ethel retired from Santa Barbara City Schools as Executive Asst to the Superintendent, they built their dream home (green before its time) by a pond in Clinton and planted an amazing garden, which this formerly big city girl learned to manage and preserve all it produced.
After they no longer could care for its sprawling acres and resource-consuming repairs, they sold the home and moved to the “big” city of Langley. The garden’s bounty continued to be enjoyed at the new owner’s Italian restaurant. Bob also built her a sewing room, a sunroom, and a pantry with ample counters to support the many arts and craft projects she learned or revived after moving to the Northwest. Many of her crafts, including beautiful tea cozy sets she labored over last Christmas, were donated to the church and other fund raising events.
Always active in retirement, when she came to the Island, she organized the Silver Sneakers exercise program through Skagit Community College. Many of her new Island acquaintances joined the program, forging friendship bonds that continued over the next twenty-six years. Bob and Ethel both had beautiful voices. A friend recently shared that when they joined St. Augustine’s they asked if the church could use a couple of “old hacks” in the choir. They then proceeded to change the quality of music enjoyed by the congregation and took the choir to a new performance level.
Ethel also joined the Langley Community Club as historian and treasurer for many years. She saved the club from disbanding in the late nineties by orchestrating a change in Board leadership. Because of her initiatives the club survived, the treasury is sound, and projects active.
Ethel became known as the “Queen” of SHIBAs, the Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisor program she helped establish in Island Co, after having been introduced to the program in CA. Initially she was the only advisor trained to consult with folks in South Whidbey and helped many who were confused by continuous changes to Medicare benefits. As the program extended to all types of insurance programs and expanded to include people of all ages, she recruited and trained additional SHIBAs.
She received a Merit Award for Exceptional Volunteerism from Medicare and was honored by CMS and WA groups, including a statewide nomination for volunteer of the year and Langley’s Hometown Hero Award. She published a monthly article in the Senior Center Newsletter, retiring from that job at age 86.
Ethel loved to connect people from very disparate backgrounds and interests and help ease their pain and improve their lives. She wrote beautifully and created poetry for the family and close friends. She recently confided that due to financial hardship when her father died, she had to turn down a scholarship from Stanford in creative writing.
She loved to entertain and play games, including cribbage, pinochle, and most card and domino games. A card group evolved and met monthly for many years. A few weeks ago she taught the priests of St. Augustine to play a domino game called Chicken Feet. They loved it and taught their friends. Had she lived longer she might have converted the entire congregation!
She volunteered and was for many years the treasurer of Episcopalian Church Women (ECW).
Everyone who came in contact with Ethel, experienced her differently, however all agree she was exceptionally caring and nice. The woman who helped care for her these past few weeks described her as the “essence of loveliness” and was grateful to have been a short part of her life. We all learned from her. One granddaughter recalls the extraordinary range of her curious mind and creative spirit, having been the recipient of her endless patience while learning sewing, quilting, card games, flower drying and arrangements. Another recalls fondly, learning to cook chocolate pudding pie.
Ethel was preceded in death by her husband, Bob and son, Bob Jr. and leaves two daughters, Kathryn Stevens (Tucker) and Ginger Waters (Robbie Rath), a blended family of grand children and great grandchildren, many of whom got to visit with her this summer. She will be dearly missed by her family and all of those whose lives she touched.
Services will be held Sept, 14, 2012 at 3:00 PM at St, Augustine’s in-the-Woods, 5217 So. Honeymoon Bay Road, Freeland, WA 98249. In lieu of flowers, Ethel asks that donations be sent to any of the following:
St. Augustine’s Building Fund or Bayview Senior Center, 14594 SR 525, Langley, WA, 98260 or Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation designated for Langley Library Branch and mailed to 104 2nd St., Langley, WA 98260.