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Northwest conservationist, philanthropist Harriet Bullitt dies at 97

Harriet Bullitt passed in Leavenworth at the Sleeping Lady Resort Saturday.

SEATTLE — Harriet Bullitt, a northwest conservationist, philanthropist and daughter of KING-TV founder, Dorothy Bullitt, has died at 97.

Bullitt passed in Leavenworth at the Sleeping Lady Resort, which she founded, Saturday.

Bullitt founded Seattle Magazine, two radio stations and ran KING-TV for a brief time. She also helped the Bullitt Foundation allocate more than $200 million toward environmental causes.

The Bullitt Foundation CEO and Earth Day Co-founder Denis Hayes told KING 5, that as well-rounded as Harriet was, her greatest legacy will be her impact on the environment.

"Everything from saving the ancient forests of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, trying to clean up stuff at Hanford and working hard on environmental health. A champion of deep green buildings and of putting her bustle behind the Bullitt Center. She really wanted to build a sustainable world for her children and grandchildren, and everybody's children and grandchildren too," said Hayes. 

Harriet's mother, Dorothy, was a broadcasting pioneer in the northwest. Dorothy found KING Broadcasting in the late 1940s.

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You can read Harriet's biography provided by the Bullitt Foundation below:

Philanthropist. Publisher. Broadcaster. Resort operator. Fencer. Zoologist. Flamenco dancer. Harriet Bullitt has worn many hats over the course of her long life.  

Well known for her leadership at the Bullitt Foundation – which was founded by her mother Dorothy and funded by Harriet with her sister Patsy and her brother Stim – Harriet has left an indelible imprint on the Pacific Northwest region she loves so much. Perhaps her father, Scott Bullitt, described her best: “She doesn’t shine in any reflected glory, but has a genuine personality all her own.”  

Harriet Overton Bullitt was born on September 10, 1924 in Seattle General Hospital, the first member of her family to be born in a hospital. Her grandfather, C.D. Stimson, was the owner of Seattle’s largest sawmill, a major owner of the Metropolitan Building Corporation, which built the Fairmont Olympic Hotel along with many other buildings in central Seattle, and was a co-founder of The Highlands. When her father died in 1932, Dorothy not only had to raise three children but also run the family business, Stimson Realty Company. At the time, it was not common for a woman to run a business.  

During World War II, Harriet studied chemical engineering at the University of Washington. However, she ran into sexism there and was told by a professor to avoid the library since she was distracting to the male students. She tried her hand at home economics, but after she “flunked French toast,” she moved east to Bennington College to finish her degree. She eventually earned a Zoology degree from UW, but not until 1965. 

At Bennington, Harriet met and married William Brewster, a handsome Dartmouth graduate. Dorothy gave the couple land outside of Leavenworth, WA as a wedding gift. While living in Boston with Bill and their two children, Wenda and Scott, Harriet won the New England Women’s Fencing Championship.  

Later the couple moved to Gainesville, FL to work at the University of Florida. Working as a protein chemist, Harriet milked the venom from poisonous snakes to produce antivenom. 

In 1962, Harriet divorced Bill and moved back to Seattle with her children. She married three more times, including her current husband Alex Voronin, who she met during a flamenco dancing party.   

In Seattle, Dorothy had become interested in broadcasting, founding King Broadcasting in 1947. In its day, King had the first TV broadcast license west of the Mississippi River and north of San Francisco.  

With little interest in broadcasting, Harriet started a newsletter in 1966 to celebrate the region’s natural beauty. First called Pacific Search, with subscribers from the Pacific Science Center, Audubon Society, mycological organizations and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the newsletter would grow into Pacific Northwest Magazine (now Seattle Magazine), with more than 80,000 subscribers. In this role, she first published a new cartoonist, Gary Larson, and a photographer, Art Wolfe. She also published articles by Ken Kesey and Ivan Doig, who were new writers on the scene.  

In 1984, Harriet put down her fencing swords and took up flamenco dancing. At the time she lived on a barge in Lake Union known as Water Music, which was pulled by her Nordic tugboat, Whirl Wind. Both vessels were equipped with sprung floors for dancing. A sticker on the barge famously read, “there’s no abyssness like show abyssness.” 

When Dorothy Bullitt died in 1989, Harriet and Patsy found themselves in charge of King Broadcasting. Stim was running Harbor Properties at the time. In August 1990, Harriet and Patsy called a press event at the Stimson-Green mansion on First Hill to announce the sale of King Broadcasting. At the same time, they announced the funds would help grow the endowment of the Bullitt Foundation to approximately $85 million. While the Foundation had been around since the 1960s, supporting groups such as the Oregon Rivers Council, The Nature Conservancy, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the new resources increased its endowment more than 20-fold. To this day, the Foundation has given more than $300 million to environmental causes in the Pacific Northwest.  

The Bullitt family has had a long connection to Leavenworth, with a 300-acre property known as Coppernotch on the east side of Icicle Creek built by Dorothy in 1931. During World War II, Dorothy had sheltered her Japanese employees, Fred and Alice Ohata, there, to protect them from being forced into detention camps.  

Harriet loved the area, which led her to develop Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort on an adjacent property along Icicle Creek in 1995. Originally known as “Na-sik-elt” or Narrow Bottom Canyon by the Yakama and P’squosa tribes who lived there before it became the site of the Civilian Conservation Corps’ Camp Icicle and the Roman Catholic Church’s Camp Field, Harriet hired architect Johnpaul Jones to help her design the resort in harmony with the surrounding environment. In 2001 the American Institute of Architects recognized it as one of the Top Ten Green projects in the nation.  

Harriet created the Icicle Fund in 1998 to support arts, environment, and cultural and natural history in North Central Washington. To date it has distributed more than $40 million to more than 100 regional organizations. In 2019, Harriet transferred ownership of Sleeping Lady to the Icicle Fund, which will operate it in perpetuity.  

Harriet lives in her home on the Sleeping Lady property, with her husband Alex and Icelandic shepherd, Roki.  


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