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ELIZABETH COOPER TERWILLIGER 1909-2006

RENOWNED NATURALIST TEACHER

Long before "ecology" became a household word, Elizabeth Terwilliger, pioneered environmental education in Marin County. A legend in her time, she actively led school trips for children until she was 87.  On Monday, November 27, 2006, she succumbed at age 97.  She lived in the Redwoods in Mill Valley where she and her husband, Dr. Calvin Terwilliger, moved from their Mill Valley home in 1987.  They were married 50 years, before he preceded her in death in 1990.

Marin County has been blessed with many environmentalists and conservationists. But Elizabeth Terwilliger was the most visible of all, leading canoe, bicycling and field trips for all ages for more than 50 years. She was a familiar sight, in her straw hat with a trail of eager children following her like the "Pied Piper". She ran briskly from one discovery to another, calling "Something Special!" Day after day, her enthusiasm for all of nature was fresh, as though for the first time. Her dedication and passion for teaching never diminished.

Her "bird-in-the-hand" teaching techniques have been applauded worldwide. Fondly called "Mrs. T" by children and adults, she led three generations of Bay Area children on field trips and taught them a special awareness and appreciation of Nature and the out-of-doors. She left an indelible stamp on the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. Her legacy is their love and respect for nature. For others it is bike paths, boat harbors, nature preserves and wildlife habitat that are here because of her efforts.

Her father was a physician on the Aiea sugar plantation in Hawaii where she was born, September 13, 1909. As children, she and her two brothers commuted by bus and train into Honolulu for their schooling. She graduated from Punahou and the University of Hawaii. She received her M.A. from Columbia University in nutrition, and her R.N. from Stanford University School of Nursing, where she met her husband-to-be, Dr. Calvin Terwilliger, an orthopedic surgeon. After the war, they settled in Sausalito where, as they began their family, Elizabeth began crusading for playgrounds.

They moved to Strawberry and then to Mill Valley. As their children, John and Lynn Ellen, were growing up, she led field trips for their schools, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Soon other school groups flocked to Marin for hands-on experiences with "Mother Nature." By the late 60’s, she led trips five days a week - - all volunteer - - for a growing number of teachers and environmental and wildlife organizations from all over the Bay Area. Her trademark "V for vulture!" with her arms stretched high overhead in the V shape delighted and taught children to observe and imitate flight patterns of birds overhead. Multi-sensory, interactive participation was a teaching technique she pioneered with the use of taxidermied birds and mammals.

She inspired others to join her volunteer efforts. In collaboration with Caroline Livermore, successful projects included the creation of the Pixie Playground in Ross, and the preservation of both Angel Island and Audubon Richardson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Tiburon. Elizabeth was also instrumental in the creation of county-wide bike paths (including opening the west sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge), placing bike racks at schools, installing small boat docks, establishing the Butterfly Grove at Muir Beach, building a bridge at Muir Woods, and preserving wetlands, county parks and open space.

She often told mothers, "Spend the day at home and you’ll never remember it…spend the day outdoors with me, and you'll never forget it!" Inspired by a desire to spread Mrs. T’s teaching techniques, volunteer, Joan Linn Bekins worked with her to create the Terwilliger Nature Guides, the Elizabeth Terwilliger Nature Education Foundation (which later merged with California Wildlife Center to become WildCare), a fleet of 3 Nature Vans, and the Terwilliger Guild. Bekins also produced the five award-winning educational habitat films "Tripping with Terwilliger" which have been seen by 60 million children in their classrooms and are still distributed by the Terwilliger Nature Education Legacy to schools, libraries, and universities.

Elizabeth Terwilliger received two honorary doctorates and many prestigious awards in her lifetime, including the JC Penney "Golden Rule Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service"; State of California, "Trailblazer in the World of Conservation and Teaching"; Daughters of the American Revolution "National Conservation Award"; Chevron’s Conservation Award; Marin "Women’s Hall of Fame"; the Marin Conservation League’s "Peter Behr Award", the National Education Film Festival’s "John Muir Award"; and the CINE "Golden Eagle Award."

Perhaps the most memorable was the "Volunteer Action Award" in 1984 presented by President Reagan at the White House. Never missing a chance to spread her message, she taught the President how to imitate a hawk in flight, their picture together captured forever on the front page of the Washington Post. She then commandeered the podium to instruct the nationwide viewing audience to repeat her favorite doctrine for children: "This is my country. Wherever I go, I will leave it more beautiful than I found it." She never stopped setting that example as she picked up trash at the East Gate of the White House, waiting for the ceremony to begin. She enchanted Washington, D. C.’s politicians, and television viewers with her enthusiastic, matter-of-fact love of Lincoln, books, and teaching children about the world around them. A local television crew accompanied Mrs. T. on the plane to Washington D.C. recording this extraordinary woman’s odyssey. The resulting TV documentary inspired a news team from "20/20" to later join Mrs. T on a field trip and produce a segment, which was aired on National Television.

Mrs. T. created a spark in children that led some into vocations such as park rangers, botanists, professionals in the natural sciences, and most of all, individual stewards of the planet. They carry on Mrs. T’s passion to teach children early to respect Nature. She felt her work was never done. Each year a new group of five year olds needed to be taught to take responsibility for their actions in the natural world. "Knowledge dispels fear," she often said.

She authored a newspaper column "Sights and Sounds of the Seasons" for the Marin Independent Journal for several years that was later published in a book of that name.

Elizabeth Terwilliger is survived by her son John Terwilliger of Fresno and her daughter, Lynn Ellen Terwilliger of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and three grandsons: Ryan and Sean Terwilliger and Dana Sanford.

In Mrs. Terwilliger’s memory, tax-deductible donations may be made to the 501c3 non-profit " Terwilliger Nature Education Legacy ", P.O. Box 722, Tiburon, CA 94920.  (Tax ID # 56-2374411)

Created by John Terwilliger and his sister Lynn Ellen, "TNEL" perpetuates their mother’s teaching methods, hands-on experiences, and love of nature.

The Legacy distributes the educational "Tripping with Terwilliger" video, free to schools, libraries and universities to teach future generations of children (email requests to TerwilligerFilms@aol.com). TNEL plans to support additional education programs that perpetuate and expand Mrs. T's teaching methods such as Fieldtrips, School Van Visits, and Nature Camps currently provided by WildCare.

For information about WildCare: http://www.wildcaremarin.org