An era of unique environmental philanthropy for the Pacific Northwest passed when famed conservationist Harriet Stimson Bullitt died Saturday at 97. She, and siblings Priscilla (“Patsy”) and Stimson who preceded her in death, left behind a more vibrant and environmentally conscious region through vigorous investment of family wealth into treasures of landscape and culture. 

Their giving converted generational gains from Seattle’s economic rise into replenishment of the corner of America that enabled this wealth. Family patriarch Charles D. Stimson made his riches as a sawmill baron and real estate developer of boomtown Seattle; his daughter Dorothy Bullitt founded King Broadcasting in 1947. Then in 1991, when Dorothy’s children Harriet, Patsy and Stimson sold off the television concern for more than $300 million, the family foundation showered proceeds across the same region the airwaves spanned, from Portland to British Columbia.

Family money originating in harvesting the Northwest’s forests funded the Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy to preserve remaining old-growth forests. The family’s Bullitt Center office building remains a landmark of environmental sustainability that also pencils out financially even as the charity prepares to award its final grants in 2024. Restoration work on the Green River, climate-resilience projects and the establishment of Hanford Reach National Monument are all part of the foundation’s list of good works, all rooted in this family’s yearning to do right by their region.

The importance of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’: An enduring lesson of Harriet Stimson Bullitt’s life

Harriet founded the 67-acre Sleeping Lady Resort with its jewel-box performing arts center, nestled into the mountains near Leavenworth, then donated it in 2018 to her Icicle Fund, which supports conservation causes in North Central Washington. From a love of classical music, she and Patsy held onto KING-FM from the broadcasting sale, then set it onto a permanently sustainable path as a listener-supported nonprofit. And the family foundation cultivated environmental preservation work to sustain places from the 25,000-acre Loomis State Forest in Okanogan County to the waters of Puget Sound. 

“It certainly is the end of a certain kind of era,” Bullitt Foundation president Denis A. Hayes said Monday, discussing the family’s storied environmental legacy with the editorial board. 

The immense investments in philanthropy of tech-era Puget Sound billionaires have enriched noble causes circling the world. But the excellent use the Bullitt siblings made of their wealth right here stands as an example for how to keep this exceptional place special for future generations.