Griselda “Babe” Lehrer might not have been thrilled at the thought of people celebrating on her birthday.
“Age is just a number, and mine’s unlisted,” she often said.
But she probably would have enjoyed that several hundred people, many wearing her patented style of purple and leopard print, filled the Pantages Theater on Thursday in her honor, on what would have been her 94th birthday.
They were there to remember the Tacoma businesswoman and philanthropist, and to recognize her work.
She died Saturday after a short illness.
Broadway Center director David Fischer choked up several times as he spoke to the crowd about Lehrer’s impact on Tacoma and the Broadway theaters, which she supported generously for decades.
She was a “closer,” he said, to laughs from the crowd.
It was common knowledge that no one said no to Lehrer, he and others recalled.
“I can still hear her telling the story of getting the City Council to follow her along in a cheer that would mimic the lighting of the chase lights on the Rialto,” Fischer said to the crowd. “ ‘R-I-A-L-T-O. Rialto, Rialto, Rialto!’ The money came.”
He said one of his favorite memories of Lehrer was a meeting between the Broadway Center and young hip-hop artists.
“Imagine Babe in her later years, sitting with 19- and 25-year-old hip-hop artists to understand how the Broadway Center could better serve that community,” he said. “She was right in the middle of the whole thing.”
No single afternoon could cover all of Lehrer’s community service, he said.
Her work for Tacoma Community College, Temple Beth El, the Broadway Center and various public art projects around the city were a few mentioned.
Fischer asked the crowd to continue supporting the causes Lehrer cared about, including an effort to light the garden at TCC in her name. She started supporting the school in 1985, and led many fundraising efforts for it.
Last summer, Rabbi Bruce Kadden asked Lehrer, a longtime time member of Temple Beth El, if she could help raise money for an apartment at Tacoma’s New Nativity House, a complex to support homeless men and women.
Instead, she raised enough to sponsor four.
“You cannot go very far in Tacoma without seeing a building or a statue or a garden that Babe was instrumental in creating or restoring,” Kadden told the crowd. “She embraced every fundraising effort with gusto.”
The Stadium High School graduate was honored to be recognized recently as one of its distinguished alumni, her family said. And she was especially proud to join the only other woman on that list: former Gov. Dixy Lee Ray.
“She liked to dance, but she also liked being asked out onto the dance floor, to be recognized,” son Michael Lehrer said of his mother’s work, after the memorial.
Lehrer had spunk, her loved ones said.
Her son Bradley Lehrer remembered once when she was in the hospital and asked him to bring her a fishwich from Tacoma’s Frisko Freeze burger joint. The cafeteria food was terrible, she told him.
At her home, an entire wall was decorated with a jungle theme. And she kept secret the recipe for her famous cakes, which were distributed after the memorial. Free copies of one of her books: “Men, They Just Don’t Get It!” were available as well.
Lehrer’s success in community service was related to her abilities as a top-notch saleswoman, people said. She and her husband turned their downtown Tacoma store, Lyon’s Apparel, into a chain of more than 15 businesses, before retiring.
A photo slideshow of Lehrer’s life featured recordings of her and husband, Herman Lehrer, who died in 2006, singing together. It ended with a Frank Sinatra song her family said fit her well: “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die.”
Those who knew her said that’s exactly what she did.