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Wednesday, January 9, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Supermom nurtured a family, a city

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In 1962, Bellevue was what now seems like an impossible place, a small town that fit the image of a mid-20th-century suburb, a place without skyscrapers or an interstate highway separating the east part from the west part.

That's where Virginia Boardman Detwiler raised a family and made countless contributions to the community she came to love.

"Oh, my gosh, there was nothing taller than two stories," said her daughter Jan Detwiler of Olympia. "Those were great times."

Mrs. Detwiler balanced her efforts to benefit the emerging city with her efforts to make each of her children feel a sense of being special.

"There were four of us children, and we feel we got her full attention," her daughter said. "We all felt we were the center of her world, each of us."

Mrs. Detwiler died Dec. 29 at 81 of complications of Alzheimer's disease.

She was born Sept. 7, 1920, in Ann Arbor, Mich., attended William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va., and graduated from the University of Michigan with a political-science degree. She was a lieutenant in the WAVES, the women's branch of the Navy, during World War II and afterward became a radio commentator for WIBM in Jackson, Mich., and a columnist for the Birmingham (Mich.) Eccentric newspaper.

In 1946, she married Philip Detwiler, whom she had met at the University of Michigan. By 1962, the economy in the Detroit area was softening, recalled their daughter, and the family moved to Seattle, choosing to live in the Bellevue area partly because of the school system.

Philip Detwiler had received a job offer from Boeing and later went to work for Howard S. Wright Construction in Seattle. The family settled in Beaux Arts Village, just south of Bellevue, where the children grew up. The family later moved to Medina and had a winter home in Hawaii. Mr. and Mrs. Detwiler had recently moved to Kirkland.

In 1964, Mrs. Detwiler founded and served as the first president of the Bellevue Town Hall lecture series under the sponsorship of St. Thomas Episcopal Church of Medina. For more than 30 years, the series brought hundreds of speakers to the area and raised more than $300,000 for local charities and the church.

At St. Thomas, she was president of the Churchwomen, a delegate to the diocesan convention, a recipient of the Churchman's medal, a member of the vestry and an adviser to the youth council.

She was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority and was president of the alumni group in Jackson and Birmingham, Mich., and Bellevue. She served as a delegate to the Pi Beta Phi national convention in 1964.

Mrs. Detwiler also was active in women's rights and was a member of the League of Women Voters, a delegate to the Michigan Republican convention and a supporter of Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

She was a member of the Women's University Club, the Bellevue Club, the Bellevue Area Self-Improvement Council and the Seattle Symphony Women's Committee, and a sponsor of Seattle Art Museum tours.

Mrs. Detwiler suffered a tragedy shortly before her own death when her son, Philip, died unexpectedly of a heart attack last month at age 51. Mrs. Detwiler's survivors include her husband of 55 years; two other daughters, Margot Detwiler Elsner of Woodinville and Gina Detwiler Lingbloom of Bellingham; a daughter-in-law, Karen Detwiler of Sun Valley, Idaho; sisters, Barbara Franklin of Jackson, Mich., and Kipp Halliday of Houston; and 11 grandchildren.

Services were conducted yesterday at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Remembrances are suggested to the Alzheimer's Association, 919 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1100, Chicago, IL 60611-1676.

Peyton Whitely can be reached at 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com.

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