Editor’s note: This is a tribute to Dorothy Harshman, who passed away March 31 at the age of 86.
Sometimes, it’s hard to put a finger on why we choose the friends we do. Some are quiet while others make a big splash. We know friends inspire and encourage us; they’re sincerely interested in our lives. They’re also fun and make us laugh. We simply feel better after sharing a cup of coffee or a telephone conversation with a true friend.
I met Dorothy in the Northshore YMCA swimming pool. Her black bathing suit revealed a physically fit, shapely figure and her gold bathing cap framed her cute round face. She climbed down the ladder into the deep end and greeted everyone along the way as she swam her way into the shallow end. Everyone knew her. I wanted to know her, too.
“Who’s that?” I asked a fellow swimmer.
“That’s Dorothy Harshman,” came the reply.
The name Harshman rang a bell, (Former UW basketball Coach Harshman!), hence, her gold bathing cap! I never did slap the promised purple W onto that cap, but instead, relished what was to become 10 years of a genuine friendship.
Dorothy, 23 years my senior, worked out in the deep end of the pool several times a week doing her bicycles, water walks, ab crunches, treading water and … talking. When she drifted into the middle of the exercise group, I ever so respectfully lifted a foot and sent her sailing across the pool. Dorothy’s reaction?
“Oh, that was fun!”
Dorothy stayed after exercise class to swim additional laps, then jumped in the hot tub to chat with all.
Sometimes, she’d tell us a joke.
“Did you hear the one about the nun sitting on a barstool in her habitat …”
As we struggled to stay afloat from laughter, we reminded Dorothy,
“That would be habit Dorothy, not habitat.”
We simply added that one to a growing list of “Dorothyisms.”
Dorothy, a funny character, successfully combined exercising and socializing, but she also gave advice.
I was sad one day, suffering from, and complaining about, empty nest syndrome. When I finished my lament, she asked, “What! Do you want me to come over and hold your hand?”
This piece of tough love gave me a new insight into how to get on with life and not to waste one moment. Dorothy never wasted a moment. Her calendar was always full with volunteer activities, social engagements writing cards and organizing family get-togethers.
On a ride home from one of many swimmers luncheons, I picked Dorothy’s brain as to her favorite old tunes, since I was researching music of the ’40s.
“Do you know this one?” she asked.
She began singing her favorite song, “Paper Doll,” in a sweet, bell-like voice. When we arrived home, her husband, Marv, greeted us. In a tender moment, Dorothy and Marv, married for 66 years, serenaded each other on the doorstep, singing “Paper Doll.”
Dorothy used to telephone me on Monday nights at 8:30.
“Dorothy, You’re calling me right in the middle of Dr. Phil,” I protested.
And her reply? “There’s something else on TV besides sports?”
The social upheavals of Dr. Phil would have to wait, as there’s no way I’d hang up on Dorothy.
You couldn’t enter the Harshman home without Dorothy giving you a home-baked goodie to take to your family … her yummy Hobo bread, always a favorite!
“She also made the best biscotti,” says friend Kathy Izumi.
Kathy recalls Dorothy coming to her craft shows, searching at length for the perfect gift for each specific person in her life.
“She was always thinking of others,” says Kathy.
Her Christmas gift to our family was an angel figurine that now watches over us.
Ann Panush, former principal of Arrowhead Elementary, recalls Dorothy’s help with the students on an exceptionally hot day.
“It was well over 80 degrees on Field Day when Dorothy manned her station. She wore a large hat to protect her from the sun, but never wavered in her dedication, despite the heat,” says Ann.
Teacher Sherry Isenhath recalls that Dorothy’s face would light up when she saw a child.
“Dorothy was one of a kind. It was a privilege to know her,” voices fellow swimmer, Susanne Stern.
Kathy concludes, “You just don’t meet someone like her very often.”
Sherry agrees, “Dorothy was a wonderful role model who now lives within us.”
We, who knew Dorothy Harshman, will slowly recover from today’s deep sadness and get on with our lives. They’ll be lives enriched and embraced by a unique treasure and a true, cherished friend … a friend who made a big splash!
Suzanne G. Beyer is a Bothell resident.