Florence Ward Garvin, 89, of Media, a retired DuPont Co. project director who worked on behalf of children with disabilities, died Sunday, Sept. 9, of a heart attack at Riddle Village.
Born into an Army family, Mrs. Garvin grew up as a young girl in Japan, where her father was posted in the 1930s as an aide to various generals. Since the youngsters attended local schools, they were given a chance to learn the customs and language of Japan.
She aspired to become a chemical engineer, studying at the University of Arizona. But after realizing there were few jobs in the field for women, she transferred and graduated in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and biology from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.
"She was one gifted woman — bright, capable, and intelligent," said daughter-in-law Lydia M. Rappaport. "She graduated from college early and didn't stop from then on. She was involved in every organization you can name."
Mrs. Garvin married psychologist Sheldon Rappaport in 1950. The couple had two children, whom they raised in Media, before divorcing in 1969. She married metallurgist Stefan Garvin in 1981.
She worked as a marketing researcher for the Center City advertising firm N.W. Ayer. Later, she worked in sales development for Wyeth Laboratories in Collegeville.
After leaving Wyeth in the 1950s, she became familiar with the work her husband was doing, evaluating children with disabilities who couldn't be taught in mainstream classrooms. The options for placement were limited.
So in 1961, she and Rappaport helped launch the Pathway School in Norristown for children ages 9 to 21. She worked there from 1961 to 1968 as a board member and fund-raiser.
"There was nothing like it at the time they did that," her daughter-in-law said.
Mrs. Garvin was vice president for development of the Vanguard School in Malvern from 1970 to 1972. The school provides individualized learning for students ages 4 to 21.
She was assistant to the president of the Elwyn Institute in Media for three years ending in 1975. The school helps those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In 1978, Mrs. Garvin was hired as a corporate project director by DuPont. It was the first such post at the chemical giant, and she held it until retiring in 1994.
Her familiarity with Japanese led to a seven-year assignment traveling to the company's facilities there. Once back in the United States, she was named the staff representative to outside groups, many in Delaware, on the firm's executive committee.
"Her main function was to articulate the purpose of a project and to develop measurable outcomes, and a calendar of expected dates for the delivery of the goals," her family said.
In retirement, she served as a trustee of Wilmington University. She was the director of special projects for the Gabriella and Paul Rosenbaum Foundation, a nonprofit that strives to improve mathematics education at universities.
Her family said she raised money for any nonprofit that needed her.
"You listened when she spoke," said Pamela Weber, a close family friend. "She always thought of other people. She always wanted to help people. She helped a boy in the neighborhood get his act together and go to college."
"She always looked elegant. I was always in awe of her, and I dearly loved her. I felt privileged to be her daughter-in-law," said Lydia Rappaport. "She had a mind like a steel trap and was driven to use it. 'Work is love in action,' she used to say."
Her first husband died in 2008, her second husband in 2010. She is survived by a daughter, Lisa Lynn Nelson; a son, Bruce W. Rappaport; two grandchildren; and three step-grandchildren.
A visitation starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, will be followed by an 11 a.m. celebration of life, both in the Frank C. Videon Funeral Home, 2001 Sproul Rd., Broomall. Interment is private.