Charlotte Utting, 74, "born to be involved"
Even being tethered to an oxygen tank didn't slow down Charlotte Maria Utting, who traveled the world as a Peace Corps volunteer. She even hid in...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Even being tethered to an oxygen tank didn't slow down Charlotte Maria Utting, who traveled the world as a Peace Corps volunteer.
She even hid in a Cameroon village for a year, avoiding doctors, not wanting her emphysema to cut short her volunteer work.
"She's the only person I knew who hitchhiked across the Sahara Desert," said son Mark Utting, who lives in Idaho.
In the end, her lungs gave out. Mrs. Utting died Oct. 7 at an assisted-living home in Shoreline. She was 74.
"She was a feisty, feisty thing. Not a trend-setter at all," said Gemma Utting, her daughter-in-law.
She was born in Germany, then her family moved in 1934 to China, where her father worked as an economic adviser. She moved with her mother and sister to Victoria, B.C., leaving on the last boat before Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
In Victoria, she worked as a waitress at the famed Empress Hotel. She met the man she said she would marry when she was 14, and they later eloped to Seattle. She later graduated from the University of Washington.
Mrs. Utting raised two sons, and when the younger, Chris, turned 18, she joined the Peace Corps, working in Senegal and then returning to Africa a decade later, this time assigned to Cameroon.
"Between her two Peace Corps assignments until her death, Charlotte built a reputation as a woman with a fierce, unwavering commitment to world peace and global understanding through worldwide friendships," wrote Gemma Utting.
While working as a Peace Corps volunteer, she befriended two village boys and later helped put them through college.
In the 1960s, with her sons in tow, she demonstrated against the Vietnam War.
"There was a strong pressure as a kid to go to various marches," said Mark Utting. "It was part of my education."
Years later, she protested the U.S. role in Central America and visited Nicaragua. She protested the Gulf War and bombings of Iraq.
Even when her emphysema grew worse, she lugged her portable oxygen system into downtown Seattle to join in protests during World Trade Organization meetings in 1999.
Her sister, Ruth Petersky, remembers turning on the television during the Vietnam War protests and seeing Mrs. Utting struggling with a policeman as protestors tried to shut down Interstate 5. "Oh, no, not Charlotte again," she said.
Why was she such an activist?
"From the time she was a little tiny kid, she was always defending someone who didn't have the power to defend themselves," said Petersky. "She was not easy to be around because she saw things much in a black-and-white way."
Mrs. Utting was forced to move into an assisted-living home last year when her condominium on Sand Point Way was burglarized by a man who targeted the elderly.
He broke in to steal her purse, and she awoke, chasing the burglar as long as her oxygen tether would allow. Later she identified the suspect, and he is now in prison. She lost not only her money, but also her address book with 25 years' worth of addresses in it, making it hard for her family to let friends know of her death.
"The burglary was the end of her life," said Denise Utting, a daughter-in-law. "She was a fabulous woman, born to be involved and be an advocate. The hard part was getting her to talk about her life."
Mrs. Utting worked at the University of Washington philosophy department from 1956 to 1980 and as an adviser in the UW English department from 1983 to 1989.
When her health forced her retirement as a Peace Corps volunteer, she went to work as a Peace Corps recruiter, and in 1988 she was named outstanding returned Peace Corps volunteer of the year. She also gave more than 100 slide presentations on Africa to schools and service groups.
Such a stickler for English, she would point out typos in newspapers and in her sons' school papers. That's one reason, said her son, she was such a passionate Scrabble player. Petersky, an accomplished player herself, recalled winning only about two of 100 or so games they played together.
A memorial service is scheduled for Nov. 5, from 3.30 p.m. to 6.00 p.m., at the University Friends Center, 4039 Ninth Ave. N.E. in Seattle. The family is asking anyone who knew Mrs. Utting to share photos, stories and memories.
Memorials in her name may be sent to Doctors Without Borders, 333 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10001.
Mrs. Utting is survived by her sister, Ruth Petersky, of Seattle; her sons and daughters-in-law, Mark and Gemma Utting of Boise, Idaho, and Christopher and Denise Utting of Shoreline; and four grandchildren.
The family plans to spread some of her ashes in Africa.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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