Griselda “Babe” Lehrer worked harder in retirement for the Tacoma community than most people try to do throughout their career, those who knew her said.
The cornerstone of Tacoma philanthropy and business died Saturday after a short illness. She would have been 94 on Thursday.
Even about a week before her death, she met with 10 or so people to help ensure projects she was in the middle of would be seen to completion, including a book about Alexander Pantages and the history of his theater.
It was a “reservoir of energy and passion that kept her going beyond what any other human I’ve known had the capacity to do,” friend and Broadway Center Executive Director David Fischer said.
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Because of Lehrer’s tireless service to the community, Temple Beth El, where she was a generous and longtime member, referenced her “retirement” in a notice of her death.
The Broadway Center, Tacoma Community College and public art throughout the city were especially important to her, friends and family said.
The Goddess of Commerce statue downtown and a monument honoring a local young man who perished saving schoolchildren after an earthquake are among the public pieces she helped bring to Tacoma.
She’s survived by sons Michael and Bradley and three grandchildren. Her husband, Herman Lehrer, died in 2006.
Bradley Lehrer said he could call his mother at 2 or 3 a.m., knowing she’d answer.
“She was up,” he said. “She lived life with vitality.”
At age 19, with $350, Lehrer started Lyon’s Apparel, a women’s clothing business she and her husband turned into a chain of more than 15 stores.
Her ability as a salesperson was key to Babe’s success in both business and philanthropy, family friend Steph Farber said.
An example: He invited her to a meeting years ago, hoping to ask her to be the face of an effort to fundraise for the creation of Tacoma’s Theater District. Not only did she attend, she brought eight pages of notes. Of course she’d be the face of the campaign, she said. But first, could they go through the fundraising plans she’d drawn up?
“She was a star with board involvement,” said Lilly Warnick, who knew her through Temple Beth El, TCC work and elsewhere. “No one could say ‘no’ to Babe, because she had a wonderful way of asking people for help.”
It was Warnick who asked Lehrer to join the TCC foundation board about 30 years ago. The school has both a Japanese garden and a scholarship endowment in Lehrer and her husband’s name.
Lehrer was also fun, friends and family said.
No one left her home without her famous chicken soup — or her cinnamon swirl cakes, the recipe for which she kept secret.
Her favorite color was purple, and she liked leopard print, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said, adding: “She always brought humor and pizazz to everything.”
State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, first met Lehrer through TCC work.
“I’ve never really thought of what Tacoma would be like without her,” Jinkins said.