Glimpse into the past – Honoring the Career of Valerie Easton

The long-term success of an institution often resides in the vision, dexterity, intellect, ambition and intuitiveness of an individual. On February 22, 2017, Valerie Easton announced that she was no longer writing her weekly column in the Pacific NW Magazine, bringing her 25 year career there to an end. For me, it seems like Val only recently started as the Library Manager at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library, located at the Center for Urban Horticulture on the east edge of the University of Washington campus.

View into 1st Miller Library …off Merrill Hall lobby

It is extremely appropriate that we acknowledge the legacy of Valerie Easton, as one of the premier horticultural writers of the Northwest. But most importantly, she has held high the banner of women involved in horticulture. We long have enjoyed Ed Hume, George Pinyuh, John Hanley, Cecil Solly, and Ciscoe Morris. But many women, too, have created and championed gardens, garden clubs, and other plant and conservation efforts over the years, and Val has been a public professional leader in this gardening arena for over 30 years.

Valerie Easton, staff picture, 1985-86

Val started her career as a librarian, shelving books at the Lake City Library during high school. Her last column, mentioned above, detailed her career during which being a librarian ultimately lead to an illustrious writing career. She began her position at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library in June 1985, and departed there in November 2002. The Library had been created through the generosity of Pendleton Miller, in honor of his wife, Betty Miller, who wanted to create a public repository where gardeners could find the latest information from around the world.

The Library had its beginning in the book collection assembled at the Washington Park Arboretum by its gardeners and curators and cataloged by Lyn Sauter, a volunteer. In the early days, Val worked closely with Mrs. Miller, listening to and using her ideas, until her passing in 1994. As the number of books grew, the Library also grew in collection size and physical space.

Valerie Easton, Joyce Brewster (Development), Sally Dickman (Administrator), Fred Hoyt (then Greenhouse and Grounds), John Wott preparing for Volunteer Dinner

Val also wrote books, and her The New Low Garden Maintenance Garden, was named one of the 10 Best Home and Garden Books of 2009 by Amazon. Her articles appeared in Metropolitan Home, Fine Gardening, and Garden Illustrated as well as others. For years, I always looked forward to her articles on interesting area gardens, and she always prepared an outstanding combination of articles on the winning gardens for the Pacific NW Flower and Garden Show issue.

Valerie Easton and Dorothy MacArthur, library volunteer, 1986-7

However I will most always credit Valerie as the “Savior” of the Miller Library collections on the morning of May 21, 2001, after Merrill Hall, including the Miller Library, had been firebombed by eco-terrorists and largely destroyed. Working closely with Gary Menges of the UW Libraries Preservation Office, Val marshaled teams of volunteers to remove, dry, clean, and save that collection. They knew the value and need for the preservation of these volumes, and the quicker the books could be removed and processed, the fewer would be lost. Less than 10% were actually lost. There were books spread throughout NHS Hall until they could be removed for further treatment.

Today, the Miller Library contains over 15,000 books, retains 800 periodical titles, and houses 800 rare books in a sealed vault. And it is visited by thousands of visitors in person, on line, and by telephone annually.  The leadership provided by Valerie Easton will be cherished for generations.

Valerie’s gardening and writing companion Bridget, with her in the gravel courtyard of their Langley front garden. (Courtesy Claire Takacs). From Pacific NW Magazine.

One Response to “Glimpse into the past - Honoring the Career of Valerie Easton”

  1. Christie Carey Douglass

    Val, you may not remember me but I used to live in Sheridan Beach at the end of 41st, there on the corner. If you remember, Betty was my aunt. I’d just like to thank you for the interest, care and concern you had for Betty and your great concern for her dream of the Miller Library. With your help and guidance it has become a national treasure among horticulturists. I’d just like to say again, “Thank You” for your dedication to Betty’s dream.