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Sunday, October 31, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Baby Blues' Pioneer, Dawn Gruen, Dies

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Dawn Gruen's 15 minutes of fame came five years ago when she and her husband, Rolf, were chosen as a "typical" American family and a perfect example of democracy's success.

So on Sept. 30, 1994, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his wife, Naina, dropped by the Gruens' Queen Anne home for a 20-minute visit. Unfortunately, the Yeltsins didn't have time to sample the black Russian tea and warm Washington apple pie Mrs. Gruen had prepared.

While the visit was a highlight, there was much more to Mrs. Gruen's life.

By the time of her death from cancer on Monday (Oct. 25, 1999) at age 52, she had advised hundreds of couples on balancing career and family and had helped an untold number of new mothers through the depression that often follows childbirth.

"Society was not recognizing the depth and severity of the `baby blues,' " said her husband. "She was one of the few people who could counsel for it, and she was a lightning rod for bringing greater awareness to how postpartum (depression) impacted women, children and the family."

Mrs. Gruen was born in Toledo, Ohio, and received a master's degree in social work from the University of Iowa. After graduation, she moved to Bellingham.

She worked for the state Department of Social and Health Services before moving to Seattle. She ran King County's family-services program in Wallingford, advising husbands and wives about careers and the right time to have children.

It was in Wallingford that Mrs. Gruen, who was of Lebanese descent, met Rolf Gruen. On Nov. 28, 1975, they were married at the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall in Seattle.

"We chose it because it was a lovely spot with no religious affiliation," said her husband. Mrs. Gruen was a nonpracticing Muslim and her husband is half Jewish.

Mrs. Gruen had two children and didn't experience postpartum depression. But working at Family Services of King County, she saw it as a growing problem and made it her life's work.

She became an internationally recognized expert. Ten years ago, she founded Depression After Delivery and was its president. She conducted workshops on postpartum depression in this country and in England, Australia and New Zealand. She co-wrote a book, "Beyond Birth," with Dr. Rex Gentry.

Mrs. Gruen also was site-council chairwoman at Garfield High School, and was an avid gardener and runner.

"She brought lots of spirit and light and laughter into people's lives," said her husband. "Her charge was to help people gain knowledge and learn and grow. It's amazing how many people she touched."

The Gruens' one brush with celebrity came in 1994. As part of a planned visit to Seattle, the Yeltsins wanted to tour a "typical" American household. The Gruens, who were hosting a Russian exchange student, were asked to host them. Today, the front-porch swing at the Gruens' home sports a plaque saying the Yeltsins had sat there.

Survivors include a son, Deric Gruen, and a daughter, Anna Gruen, both of Seattle; her parents, Eddie and Julia Simon of San Diego; a brother, Ray Simon of Toledo; and two sisters, Barbra Rofkar of Bellingham and Janet Assi of San Diego.

A memorial service held Friday at the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall was followed by a private burial.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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