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Helen (Sowers) Armour Pym

1921 - 2013, Santa Barbara

Helen (Sowers) Armour Pym passed away May 10, 2013, ending a full and fulfilling life, at the age of 91. Helen relocated to Santa Barbara from Seattle in 2005, where she became an active member of the Maravilla community. She was engaged in wide-ranging activities including watercolor painting, chorus, bridge, book groups, residents’ council, memoir writing, exercise classes, and movie night projectionist.

Helen was an eternal optimist, always finding the good in people, and a tireless advocate for the developmentally disabled. Her contributions ranged from extensive volunteer work when her children were young, to a career pioneering and advancing resources for the developmentally disabled in Washington state. She was recognized as a leader in the movement towards normalization that led to a more sensitive and enlightened view towards the developmentally disabled and to growing recognition and acceptance that they were entitled to the same respect and rights as every other member of society.

Helen’s life story is told in her own words, written in 2003, prior to her move to Santa Barbara:
“I was born in Vancouver, Washington on October 14, 1921. When I was six months old the family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where my father, Don Conger Sowers, was the Director of the Bureau of Business and Government Research at the University of Colorado. My mother, Helen Smith, was very involved in the League of Women Voters and community affairs. She had been a teacher of Home Economics, and was very interested in proper nutrition, so we always had healthy delicious meals and an intellectually stimulating basis for our lives. The youngest of three children, I had two brothers, Don and Robert who were wonderful companions. We had a great environment in which to hike, ski, ice skate and enjoy nature, thus I was challenged to keep up with them.

We all attended the University of Colorado, where I earned a degree in English and a teaching certificate. When World War II started, both of my brothers went into the service, and I worked on a camouflage research project for the Tiffany Foundation on Long Island, New York and in Florida. I also worked at the high altitude (11,000 ft) Solar Observatory near Leadville, Colorado, high up in the Rocky Mountains.

After the war I went to Seattle to visit my brother who was working there, and found a job at Boeing as a junior engineer. There I met Robert B. Armour, an engineer and Denver native, and after a brief courtship we were married in July 1947, established a home, had three daughters and became real Seattleites.

A very pivotal and challenging event in our lives was the birth of our youngest daughter, Martha, who had Down Syndrome. When she was born in 1955 the conventional wisdom was that “people like her” belonged in an institution. This made no sense to me, as she was a capable and charming little girl, and a great asset to our family. We all learned much about tolerance, about life’s priorities, about understanding differences, and most of all about unconditional love with which she showered us. When she joined our family, my life took on a whole new focus, one I could never have dreamed about. I have worked the rest of my life to find and develop the resources and support systems needed by people with developmental disabilities. It has been a great adventure, full of successes, disappointments and amazing challenges.

After the death of my husband, Bob Armour, in 1971 due to cancer, I worked at the University of Washington, in the Experimental Education Unit, retiring after I met and married Elwyn Pym in 1976. Together we enjoyed many years of travel and exploring the cultural and scenic treasures of Seattle and the Northwest. Elwyn passed away in 1989 of emphysema.

My life since then has been very full with active membership on the board of Arc of King County, for developmentally disabled people, with St. George’s Episcopal Church, and with activities like bridge, concerts, plays and opera, reading, and enjoying my family and friends, and meeting new people. I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively, to England, Italy, China, Australia, Mexico, as well as several Elderhostel destinations domestically.”

Helen is survived by her daughters Laura Howarth (Stephen) of Bristol, UK and Julie Wexler (David) of Santa Barbara; her grandchildren Christopher Wrighton (Gabrielle Sumner) of London, UK, Michael Wrighton, currently residing in Bogota, Columbia, Ian Wexler of Brooklyn, New York, Melanie Wexler (Cristhian Escobedo) of Santa Barbara; and her great-grandchildren Rafael Sumner Wrighton and Mia April Escobedo. Her youngest daughter Martha pre-deceased her.

A celebration of Helen’s life was held at Maravilla on June 9, 2013. In lieu of flower donations may be made to the Alpha Resource Center, 4501 Cathedral Oaks Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93110, (www.alphasb.org). Alpha Resource Center is the Santa Barbara chapter of the ARC, the organization providing resources for the developmentally disabled which Helen was very involved with for many years in Seattle.

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