There are some old people. Maybe. But Charlotte F. Riley, fondly called Grammy in her later years, was not one of them. “Was” will never feel quite right describing her. I, and those who had the good fortune of knowing her, continue to catch themselves speaking in present tense.
Charlotte, with her glinting, warm blue eyes and shiny aura of optimism effortlessly embodied and personified life, living each day vibrantly, passionately, and lovingly without end in sight.
Charlotte was born in Port Townsend, WA, in 1923, as the youngest of three daughters to Karl and Crestence Blenk Fillinger. She spent her childhood as one of the last lighthouse keepers’ of the state’s daughters, and quickly blossomed into the quintessential Pacific Northwest woman. She attended the University of Washington and worked for Boeing during WWII. Using her passion and talent for art and her eye for beauty, she worked as a draftswoman for various architecture firms in Seattle until the late 1950’s. During this time, and into her eighties, she was an avid skier and golfer. Attending games into her nineties, Charlotte was an avid Huskies football fan.
She met and married Huston S. Riley while skiing at Mt. Baker and they married in 1948. While married, she spent 30 years managing Mr. Riley’s business. They lived together in their North End Mercer Island home together until his death in 2011. Under her lifelong, nurturing gardening, the house and yard of the residence was comparable to the Garden of Eden, blossoms and plants, and even a patch of tomatoes springing from all corners which she tended to lovingly. She continued living in, and maintaining her beautiful waterfront home until a week before her death.
A 70 year resident of Mercer Island, Charlotte had an easy, unintentional habit of capturing the hearts of everyone with whom she crossed paths, whether those beings were wild animals, pets, or fellow humans. In grocery stores, it was not unusual for her to be summoned by uncertain shoppers for cooking and baking advice. In shopping malls, she found the ideal prom dress for her granddaughter or lipstick color for an occasion, or perfect gift without faltering. Thinking and knowing of others came naturally, fluidly, frequently to her. An animal lover throughout her life, she rescued myriads of animals, feeding and caring for any stray and abused animals she found deposited in her neighborhood. She nursed multiple wild animals back to health, from squirrels to ducks to a grumpy, but frequent final cat she christened, “Snarl,” all the while working hard to place these found animals into safe and appropriate homes.
Charlotte’s presence wherever she went felt less body, more soul, so light and open that anyone around her seemed to immediately feel the familiar magnetism those who knew her always felt, one of wanting to get closer, to feed off of and share her energy. She was a devoted, and involved mother, leading activities throughout her two kids’ childhoods. She was also a loving, clever, and inspiring grandmother, adored by her five grandchildren. A voracious reader and consumer of information, ever interested in the world, newspapers never went unclipped; she always cut out contests of interest, relevant articles, and “funnies” to share and pass on. An artist long past her working days, Charlotte shared her eye for fashion through careful and thoughtful shopping trips, and bountiful detailed knitting and sewing projects. She could create any dress you pointed to inside of catalogues, whether for adults or dolls, and produced hundreds of original projects, always with the specific details and preferences of her family and friends in mind.
Charlotte was famous for her copious and delicious Christmas cookies, enormous heart shaped Valentines cookies, and solid Easter Bunnies. No relatives’ birthday or holiday was ever forgotten, and a gift, meticulously chosen for each recipient, was always perfectly wrapped and on time.
A woman, a mother, a wife, a grandmother of independent, stalwart, selfless, and giving spirit, Charlotte’s heart, her endless kindness and warmth will continue, as it did during her life, to live on, having touched, influenced, and inspired those who live still. She is survived by her son, Padraic H. Riley (Karen) of Mercer Island, and Erin E. Borden (Mark), of Whidbey Island her five beloved grandchildren, Konrad, Riley Grace, Killian, Drake, and Lil.
Remembrances may be made to the arboretumfoundation.org, Humane Society of the United States, or your local animal shelter.