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Naturalist Elizabeth Terwilliger dies

By Elizabeth Daley, Bay City News Service

November 29, 2006

Renowned Marin County educator and naturalist Elizabeth Terwilliger died Monday at the age of 97, leaving her country more beautiful than she found it.

Terwilliger, who lived at the Redwoods retirement community in Mill Valley, is survived by her daughter Lynn and son John Terwilliger, and several grandchildren, according to Redwoods nurse Charlene Sharp.

Terwilliger was married to Dr. Calvin Terwilliger, and friends say the couple developed a love of nature together.

Those who knew Terwilliger spoke today of the mesmerizing effect she had on others.

Her friend Joan Bekins said Terwilliger grew up in Hawaii, where she had a great love for the outdoors. "When she was at Stanford she didn't have enough money to go home so she would go up to Yosemite and she was inspired by the rangers there,'' said Bekins.

Bekins said Terwilliger always wore a broad-brimmed straw hat and led nature walks for 50 years, until she was 87 years old.

"I saw her last week and her skin was so smooth, and the children ran after her like the Pied Piper,'' Bekins recalled.

"She was like a grandmother to our children, a most unusual grandmother because our children would open up the refrigerator and find a frozen raccoon inside. We had the creatures taxidermied to use in her van,'' said Bekins, referring to the van Terwilliger used as she traveled around teaching school children about nature.

Karen Wilson, director of Wild Care, a San Rafael-based organization that uses Terwilliger's field guide techniques to expose children to nature, said Terwilliger "found interest and passion in everything she came across, she enlivened and engaged kids in such a way and she captured the hearts and minds of thousands of Bay Area kids and adults.''

Wilson said Terwilliger's teaching methods were perfect for educating children and that many went on to teach their parents all they had learned about the environment.

"We will miss her terribly,'' Wilson said, "but we feel fortunate that we will be able to share her legacy with 40,000 kids each year.''

Barbara Salzman, president of the Marin Audubon Society, said she didn't even know what the Audubon Society was before she took her first nature walk with Terwilliger many years ago. A Philadelphia native, Salzman said of her urban childhood, "the only open space I had was a cemetery that was fenced in.''

"I guess my life would be much different if I hadn't gone on those trips with her,'' said Salzman, who has since become an environmental activist.

"She introduced many children and adults to the environment, she introduced me and my son to the environment, and made it a wonderful, joyful and living experience to know what was going on around us,'' Salzman said.

"Lots of people will miss her.''

A memorial service for Terwilliger will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 13 at the Mill Valley Community Center.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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