Gutsy matriarch put her family first

Marguerite Eller was like human Velcro.

Those who passed through the busy back door of Mrs. Eller's modest three-bedroom home on the edge of White Center had a tendency to stick to the mother of six.

"It was like Grand Central Station at all times in that house," said Marcia Coté, a family friend for more than three decades, who said Mrs. Eller often held court from her recliner or a dining-room chair.

To her close friends and family, Mrs. Eller was a gutsy matriarch who took no excuses. Despite hardships, she always considered herself lucky, never a victim. Mrs. Eller died of congestive heart failure Dec. 9 at home in her sleep, surrounded by her family, as she had always wished. She was 79.

She was born in Portland on Aug. 2, 1925.

She never met her father and was disowned by her mother at age 20, when she married her high-school sweetheart, Earl Eller. His social status wasn't good enough for her mom.

"But Earl sure looked good in that military uniform," she once told her son, Patrick Eller.

"How good?" he asked.

"Well, there are six of you!" she replied.

Her husband drowned in Lake Burien in 1962, and Mrs. Eller, then 36, was left with five sons and a daughter to raise on her own while she worked at Boeing as a parts-lister on missiles and other high-security projects.

"And those boys were spirited, my golly," said Coté, who said that Mrs. Eller was the type of mother who told her sons to take it outside when they were fighting.

Mrs. Eller was known in the neighborhood as the cool mom, Coté said. When the time came to buy a family car a few years after her husband died, Mrs. Eller didn't buy a station wagon — those were for fuddy-duddies.

She bought a 1965 two-door Pontiac Grand Prix with a 358-cubic-inch V8 engine, to the delight of her boys. A woman's got to have a new car, a convertible and a pickup once in her life, she often said.

Even after her children left for college or to join the military, Mrs. Eller's home remained a hub for family and friends.

"She was alone for maybe two hours, tops, at a time," said Patrick Eller.

Mrs. Eller prided herself on being able to spot a phony. "She had no time for the con men, the smoothies," said Patrick Eller. "She would just say, 'Puh-leeze.' "

After retiring in 1982, she turned her energy to her grandchildren. A newspaper and news-magazine aficionado, she was always in the know, her son said.

"You're not doing that Ecstasy crap, are ya?" she would ask her grandkids. "It'll burn holes in your brain, you know."

For the last eight and a half years, she was hooked up to an oxygen tank — she called it her bungee cord. During that period, Mrs. Eller could often be found in her recliner, glued to the 4-foot screen that occupied her tiny living room, loudly rooting for Seattle sports teams.

"Pass the ball! No, not to that guy!" she would howl at the tube.

She loved leprechauns, lottery tickets, Christmas and dessert.

"Of all the six kids, she was the biggest kid," said Patrick Eller, who said his mother literally couldn't wait until Christmas Day to open gifts.

As people filed out of Mrs. Eller's memorial service on Dec. 18, they were accompanied by the sounds of Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street." The gathering that followed at a home in Magnolia "was a cross between an Irish wake and a bake sale," Patrick Eller said.

In addition to son Patrick, Mrs. Eller is survived by sons Thomas Eller of Seattle, Michael Eller of Des Moines, and Mark Eller of Burien; daughter Kris Hendricks of Seattle; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her son Bean Eller died in 1979.

Lauren Graf: 206-464-8345