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Small in stature, Helen Molina had a big heart when it came to her family and Washington Huskies athletics.
“She was this little, tiny spitfire,” said Susan Weber, Molina’s oldest daughter and a former UW gymnast. “She didn’t get into sports until late in life when she was in her 40s and started working in the UW sports department.
“Then she became the biggest fan. She was at all of my gymnastics meets, basketball, football and women’s soccer games. It was crazy. Right until the very end, she’d skip dinner dates with us because she wanted to watch some Husky rerun on TV that night.”
Ms. Molina died April 3 due to complications from COVID-19 and end-stage Alzheimer’s disease. She was 85.
“Helen is a classic example of good things coming in small packages,” said Bob Rondeau, former play-by-play announcer for UW football and men’s basketball. “She was small, but mighty for sure.”
Helen Antonette Molina, who stood 4 feet and 11 inches, was born Jan. 17, 1935, in New York, where she lived until age 7, when her family moved to Southern California.
She graduated from John C. Fremont High in Los Angeles in 1953 and married John Gulickson in 1957. The couple moved to Washington in 1967 and had four children before ending their 22-year marriage in 1979.
At that time, Ms. Molina, who worked as a secretary at the University of Washington in the Romance Languages and Psychology departments, took a job as an administrative assistant to former UW athletic director Mike Lude.
“I prefer to say we worked together,” said the 97-year-old Lude. “She didn’t work for me. We worked together and it worked out nicely.
“She had a strong personality. She was an exceptionally hard worker. I piled a lot of work on her and she handled it. She was a loyal team player. Helen was a very dependable person. I have nothing but positive memories of her.”
Lude led the Huskies for 15 years (1976-91), and Ms. Molina had a front-row seat to a period of incremental growth for the rising powerhouse in the now-Pac-12 Conference.
“It was really fitting that she worked with Lude because they were in a number of ways two peas in a pod,” Rondeau said. “Just relentlessly cheerful and relentlessly positive.
“You’d go in and knock on Mike’s door to say hello to him and that road led through Helen. So you’d get a double dose of energy with those two. They were very similar. The kind of people that make your day better just by contact. We all love those kind of folks.”
Soon after her arrival into the UW sports department, Ms. Molina took a keen interest in all things purple and gold.
“She was enamored with Lorenzo Romar and she was a huge fan of his,” said David Gulickson, Molina’s son. “The high point of her week was going to the coach’s show.”
Rondeau, who hosted the coach’s show, fondly remembers beginning and ending every show with a hug from Ms. Molina.
“A lasting memory is we did a birthday party for Helen one time, got her a cake and flowers, and Lorenzo, who she adored, sang ‘Happy Birthday,’ ” Rondeau said. “And you would have thought she just won the Rose Bowl. She was so happy that night and so proud.”
Said Romar: “She was just really dedicated, passionate and didn’t hide her love for the Huskies. There were several people that would show up every week, and she was one of them. If she wasn’t there, you’d wonder, ‘Where’s Helen?’ Some people leave an impression, and she did.”
Ms. Molina’s excitement for UW sports was matched by her passion for long-distance running, a hobby that began in her 40s. In 2003, she won first place for her age group in a half-marathon in Portland at 72 and enjoyed running until 75.
“She and I would run 10Ks all over like the Dawg Dash and St. Paddy’s Day dash and she’d always wear makeup,” Weber said. “I was like, ‘Really, mom? It’s 7 in the morning, we’re running a 10K and you’re in full makeup.’
“And she’d say, ‘You never know who I might meet.’ It was hilarious.”
After retiring from UW, Ms. Molina volunteered for 25 years at Lynndale Elementary School, where her grandchildren attended.
“She was always so excited to help even when she no longer had grandchildren attending the school,” said Rhonda Penrod, a former Lynndale Elementary office assistant.
Ms. Molina was preceded in death by her son Daniel and is survived by her children, David, Susan and Amy, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held in the future.
“I would always see Helen at Husky games and she was always dressed in purple,” said UW associate athletic director Chip Lydum. “She would unfailingly ask about you and your family and she always beamed when talking about her kids and grandkids.
“I was fortunate to run into her (a few years ago) at a football game. She was sprite and bright. It’s weird to hear that she’s passed because that’s the last image I have of her and she was so strong.”