While her staff and friends mourned her death, it was “business as usual, as much as it can be” at Martha E. Harris Flowers & Gifts in Madison Park, said general manager Bruce Chester. “Martha would have wanted it that way.”
The store that bears her name maintained regular hours — except for the day of her memorial service, when it closed. It is now going ahead with the holiday plans that she set up. In fact, Ms. Harris was ordering flowers and gift items “right up until she passed away,” Chester said.
Ms. Harris died Oct. 5, 2012, after a nine-year battle with mantle-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was 63.
“The last six months, we knew it was coming,” said Chester, who had worked with Ms. Harris for 17 years. “There was always hope for a new treatment. She didn’t let [cancer] kill her spirit.”
He recalled how Ms. Harris had fun before each treatment — learning to play the piano, painting, drawing.
The Martha E. Harris Flowers & Gifts store will continue on, with Chester as owner. Ms. Harris left the store to him.
“It means everything,” he said tearfully of the bequest. “It’s a great amount of trust.”
Staff members will remember Ms. Harris with one of their favorite photographs of her, which will hang permanently over the design tables near the back of the store, one of her favorite places, Chester said.
“She liked ordering in front, coordinating in the back,” he said. “She participated in all of it.”
Ms. Harris would work 30 to 40 hours a week in the store, except for when she had “bad days” or needed to go to “Camp Swedish,” as she called her treatments at Swedish Medical Center.
Her dedication to her work as a florist and for nonprofit auctions and events over the last 30 years led to her recent recognition as the 2012 Woman of Influence by the Puget Sound Business Journal. And a luncheon on Aug. 23 supporting the Martha E. Harris Fund for cancer research and Swedish Medical Center raised $200,000.
Ms. Harris had started her floral business in her unheated garage in 1975, according to her obituary, printed in The Seattle Times. The store moved to Sand Point, University Village and then to Madison Park, where it has been since March 1998.
“I look forward to continuing her legacy by honoring her creativity, quality and commitment to her community,” Chester wrote on the store’s Facebook page.
Ms. Harris was preceded in death by her husband, William Exley, whom she married in 1997.
She is survived by her mother, Betty Harris; her brother Leif Harris, her rescue dog, Gracie; stepchildren Deborrah Henry, Diane Coit, Brooke Exley and Bill Exley; step-granddaughter Ashley Henry, Cara Henry, Julia Coit, Lindsey Coit and Calista Labolle; and great-step-granddaughter Taylor Lane.
A memorial service and reception for Ms. Harris — which about 500 people attended, according to Chester — was held Oct. 12, 2012, at Seattle Children’s Theatre.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Martha E. Harris Fund at Swedish Medical Center, or to The Friends of Martha Memorial Fund via her store, 4218 E. Madison St., Seattle, WA 98112, to fund a permanent memorial installation.