Cheryl Linn Glass; She Accomplished Much In A Short Life

About 200 people filed into Seattle's Mount Zion Baptist Church yesterday morning to pay tribute to Cheryl Linn Glass.

There might have been even more people there, but her family wanted to keep news of her death quiet.

Media attention might have focused too much on how she died, rather than on what she did while alive. And in her 35 years, Glass accomplished a lot.

Glass, nicknamed "The Lady," raced cars, starting with quarter-midgets at the age of 9, then traveling all over the country, becoming the country's only black woman professional race-car driver.

She was a businesswoman. She ran her own ceramics company while still a child, selling some of her creations to Frederick & Nelson; then became a clothing designer, designing wedding and formal evening wear out of her studio in Pioneer Square.

She was an electrical-engineering student who, with her dad, co-founded an engineering program for minority students at the University of Washington.

Organizations and publications saluted her as a trailblazer, an achiever, one of America's Top 100, one of Washington's Top 100.

Those accomplishments are what her mother, Shirley Glass, wants everyone to remember.

What can't be explained is why Glass, one afternoon last week, jumped off the Aurora bridge and killed herself.

Glass was born Dec. 24, 1961, in Mountain View, Calif., the eldest of two girls born to Marvin and Shirley Glass. The family moved to Seattle in 1963.

Shirley Glass was a Boeing engineer. Marvin Glass was a vice president for Pacific Northwest Bell. It was her father who got Glass into auto racing, recalled Billy Kennelly of Seattle, who raced with Cheryl Glass when they were both children.

Marvin Glass, Kennelly said, built cars and took his daughter racing all over the state, to wherever national races were held.

She started racing quarter-midgets, then half-midgets - the Little League of auto racing - in Mukilteo.

"She was one of the few girls," Kennelly said. "One of the few who'd go really fast. "She didn't always win, but she always went for it."

She raced in the midget circuit until about the age of 18, winning national titles.

Along the way she graduated from Nathan Hale High School with honors at 16, then studied electrical engineering at Seattle University.

She did not graduate though, deciding to turn pro and pursue a sprint-car career.

She was a petite woman, but she had big dreams.

African Americans did not race cars. Women, especially, did not do this sort of sport either. She was the first woman to drive a sprint car at Skagit Speedway near Mount Vernon.

"I knew it wouldn't be easy," she told The Seattle Times in 1981. "But I wanted it understood that I wasn't doing this as a publicity stunt. I'm serious."

She was named Northwest Sprint Car Association Rookie of the Year and captured the season championship race at Skagit Speedway, eventually competing in more than 100 professional races.

As a rookie, she was telling reporters how she hoped to race in the Indianapolis 500 one day - and win it - and then compete on the Formula 1 circuit.

That did not happen.

Competing in the Indianapolis 500 took a lot of money, Kennelly said.

She stopped racing when she opened her own custom-design business, after designing an opulent silk and lace gown for her own wedding to Richard Allan Lindwall in February 1983 (they would later divorce). The studio was called Cheryl Glass Designs and her work garnered national recognition.

But in recent years, the woman who would speak to groups of students, attorneys and political-action groups garnered the type of public attention no one ever wants.

In 1991, her home was burglarized and a drawing of a swastika was left inside. She then alleged two of the three burglars raped her, though authorities said there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

Three years ago, Glass alleged King County police officers harassed her when she and a companion were arrested for throwing rocks and damaging the car of a man in her Lake Forest Park area neighborhood. Those allegations were also dismissed.

That story - April 1994 - was the last about Glass reported in The Seattle Times.

On July 15, at about 4:30 p.m., Glass jumped from the Aurora Bridge. No note was found, authorities said.

"I don't know what happened to my daughter," Shirley Glass said last night. "All I know is she was found in the water."