Alice K. Willard, 97, active in civic, charitable groups


Alice K. Willard, a homemaker who was active in many civic and philanthropic organizations, died in her sleep Wednesday at Brightwood retirement community in Lutherville. The former longtime Cross Keys resident was 97.

She was born and raised Alice Mae Kistler in Tulsa, Okla., and graduated from National Park Seminary, a junior college, in Forest Glen, Montgomery County. She earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1929 from the University of Oklahoma, and a master's degree in the subject from the University of Tulsa.

While attending Oklahoma, she performed in amateur theatrical productions and was voted homecoming queen. She also came to the attention of Hollywood movie scouts.

"She was invited to go to the West Coast and do a screen test for MGM, but her father said, `No way are you going to Hollywood,' so she declined to pursue a movie career," said her son Edward C. Lawson Jr. of Tulsa.

In 1931, she married Edward C. Lawson Sr., a principal in Lawson Petroleum, which was owned by his father.

While living in Tulsa, Mrs. Willard was active in numerous charitable organizations.

In 1952, she was selected by Life magazine as one of the ten most beautiful and accomplished women in America, her son said, and she was similarly featured sometime later in Vogue.

"Despite her delicate and feminine appearance, she relished riding the wildest horses on her Claremore, Okla., ranch, whose porch was lined with trophies that she and her first husband collected during two safaris in Africa in the 1950s," her son said.

Mrs. Willard wrote extensively of her adventures in Africa, which were published in the Tulsa World.

Her first husband died in 1961. Four years later she married LeBaron S. Willard Jr., a vice president of Commercial Credit Co., and moved to Baltimore. Mr. Willard, who later became chairman of the board, died in 1994.

Mrs. Willard was active at the Hampton Mansion and helped establish Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Other recipients of her philanthropy and voluntarism included the Walters Art Gallery and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

During the winter, when she lived at a second home in Palm Beach, she was a member of the Four Arts Society in Florida.

Interested in architectural preservation, she and her second husband were co-founders of the Palm Beach Preservation Society, whose aim was to preserve the work of Addison Mizner, a nationally known architect, who in the 1920s designed many of the fabled resort's buildings.

She was a celebrated hostess who enjoyed entertaining.

"During a magical life, she entertained many famous people, and one of her fondest memories was being asked to dance by Fred Astaire," her son said. "She later joked that she didn't know of anyone else besides herself that he had danced with twice at the same ball."

Mrs. Willard was a member of the Elkridge Club, the Mount Vernon Club, Daughters of the American Revolution and the Colonial Dames.

Mrs. Willard remained vigorous until she was in her 90s, moving to Brightwood about a decade ago.

"She golfed until she was 91, and the only time she had been in the hospital was to have her children," said a granddaughter, Elizabeth L. Linehan of Ruxton. "She followed the Greta Garbo diet and ate only fruits and vegetables. She also practiced yoga."

"She could have lasted until she was 100, but after a fall while gardening, began to go downhill," her son said.

Mrs. Willard was a member of Second Presbyterian Church and Episcopal Church of the Redeemer.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa.

Also surviving are another son, Eugene K. Lawson of Washington; a daughter, Patricia L. Gow of Houston; nine other grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren.

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