`Jeri' Ware Could Balance Activism With Hospitality

Jerline Abair "Jeri" Ware, whose intellect and humor took her from humble beginnings in Oklahoma to the vanguard of human-rights activism in Seattle, wasn't afraid to challenge the status quo.

As a member of the Seattle Human Rights Commission from 1986 to the early 1990s, she demanded fair treatment for women and minorities in city offices, police and fire departments and schools.

And as an assistant to Mike Lowry while he was a both a legislator and governor, she rallied support for him for more than 10 years.

That she opened her large home to community meetings and threw parties spiced with her home cooking and warm hospitality added luster to her reputation.

"She was a very humorous person, very outgoing, very extroverted, and enjoyed entertaining," said her daughter Falicia Green of Seattle. "She could talk to anyone. We had Muhammad Ali in our home, and Bishop Tutu, Julian Bond, Angela Davis and Paul Robeson. My mother and father lived a really good life, but helping people was the most important thing."

Mrs. Ware died of heart failure Sunday (July 6). She was 73.

"She was very humble and had that Southern hospitality but also was very knowledgable about politics," said her longtime friend Dora Mitchum Simmons.

"She had a lot of community meetings in her home, and was involved in a lot of groups, so it was natural that when well-known people came to town, they would have a reception there."

Born in Beggs, Okla., Mrs. Ware developed an independent streak early. She graduated from high school at age 15, then lived in Colorado and New Mexico before working as a carpenter at Hanford and waitressing in Seattle after World War II.

She then lived briefly in San Francisco, where she studied political science at San Francisco City College. In 1951 she moved back to Seattle and concentrated on rearing her children. But even then she helped develop cooperative nursery schools and met with city officials to demand representation for blacks in police and fire departments.

In August 1963 she traveled by bus to join 250,000 others in the historic civil-rights march on Washington, D.C.

"I had to be there," she told The Times in 1993. "I thought we could make a difference. . . . I looked around and I saw so much unity. I wasn't afraid anymore. It seemed like a new beginning for real freedom."

In the mid-1960s she studied at the University of Washington and started the first tutorial program for disadvantaged and minority students. Later she was on the board of the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP), protested South Africa's apartheid policy and served on the Human Rights Commission.

She also loved dancing, cooking and playing whist (a card-game similar to bridge). Her seafood gumbo and peach cobbler brought raves, Green said.

"It was her homemade rolls everybody loved," said Simmons with a laugh. "She used an old family recipe."

Other survivors include her husband of 49 years, John Ware of Seattle; her children Joan Ware, Frank Muhammad and John Ware, also of Seattle; her brothers Vernon Abair, Sioux City, Iowa, Arthur Abair, Buttonwillow, Calif., and Jack Abair, Tulsa; her sister, Edith Barnett, Chicago; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services are at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 1634 19th Ave. Memorials may go to the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP), 722 18th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122; or to Muhammad's Study Group, 1806 E. Yesler Way, Seattle, WA 98122.