At home in her beloved San Juan Islands, Barbara Jean Fleming passed away on Lopez Island on Aug. 15, 2015 following a long and heroic stare-down with ovarian cancer. She was 80 years old.
Born in Swedish Hospital to Samuel and Agnes Fleming on May 14, 1935, Barbara grew up in Seattle and graduated from Franklin High School in 1953 before enrolling in the nursing program at the University of Washington. Her college experience served as the catalyst for a life committed to public health, as well as the beginning of many deep and lasting friendships. After graduating from UW and eventually earning a master’s degree from Santa Clara University, her career took her from Seattle to San Jose to Santa Cruz, where she served as a public health nurse with a focus in communicable diseases. Her clients and her assignments were diverse, but she was particularly gratified by the contributions she made to the lives of her low-income, immigrant and AIDS patients.
Barbara lived in Seattle, Mercer Island, Los Gatos, Calif., and Capitola, Calif., before retiring in the San Juan Islands. Once at home in the islands, she became very active in her Orcas and Lopez Island communities, serving on a number of nonprofit and public boards while testing her Master Gardner’s skills every year in an epic struggle to maintain a vegetable garden in the parched sandy soils of her family’s Waldron Island retreat.
Along the way, Barbara devoted herself to raising a family that included her children Tim Seifert (Sonya Erickson), Mike Seifert (Anne) and Nancy Sunitsch (Scott). She voted for Richard Nixon and Barack Obama, she experimented with nudism and Buddhism (among many other diversions that delighted her friends and puzzled her children), and through her experiences as a public health official became a fierce advocate for women’s health issues. But she found her true calling in her seven grandchildren (Madeline, Samantha, Matthew, Scott, Catherine, Grace and Eva), who found in their “Nonnie” a patient playmate, a confidential friend and a wise and loving role model.
Predeceased by her parents and her youngest sister, Sally Foertsch (Rick), she is survived by her sister Susan Bethke (Bob), her children and grandchildren, and her many devoted nieces and nephews. The family would like to express special thanks to Dr. Hank Kaplan and his staff at Swedish, everyone at Hamlet House on Lopez, Lola Deane and Gale McCallum (superstars to the end), and her many friends that provided love and comfort during her final days. A memorial service will be held at Grace Episcopal Church, Lopez Island, on Thursday, Aug. 27 at 2 p.m. The family suggests remembrances be made to The San Juan Preservation Trust at www.sjpt.org or to The Hamlet, PO Box 785, Lopez Island, WA 98261.
Love you forever, Nonnie!