Cover photo for Helen Ann Gradison's Obituary
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1929 Helen 2021

Helen Ann Gradison

December 25, 1929 — December 19, 2021

Helen Gradison passed away peacefully on December 19, 2021, a week shy of her 92nd birthday.

Helen Ann Martin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on Christmas Day in 1929 to Helen Seinsheimer Martin and M. Chester Martin. She attended school in Cincinnati and after high school went off to Vassar College. While in Cincinnati she met Bill Gradison (Willis D. Gradison Jr.). Because he was at Harvard Business School when they married June 25, 1950, she finished her college studies at Tufts, from which she graduated in 1951. She had four children by age 28 and welcomed her youngest at age 34.

Helen taught ballet in Cincinnati and volunteered at the Citizens Committee on Youth, then a social services nonprofit supporting youth facing challenges. In the late 60s she returned to school and earned her law degree at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, where she was one of a handful of women in her class, and where she served on the law review.

She practiced corporate and then family and juvenile law in the Cincinnati area. Her marriage to Bill Gradison ended in divorce, and in 1990 she and her partner, Henry Weller, moved to Florida where they both retired to a home on the Atlantic Ocean near Butler Beach in St. Augustine which they found while visiting on Henry’s motorcycle during bike week. They were avid ham radio operators and argued a lot about science and politics. After losing Henry in 1994 to a long illness, Helen pursued a wide range of interests including archeology, digs and lab work, feeding tortoises and stray cats that lived in her yard, competing with whoever was in the room to win Jeopardy every time, completing the New York Times crossword puzzle (she had the largest vocabulary of anyone some of us know), reading The New Yorker and devouring Georgette Heyer novels. She hosted reunions of her growing family of 5 daughters who each had two children; reunions were busy, active, joyous affairs.

Helen was a proponent of reproductive rights, equal rights for women, natural childbirth, physical fitness and yoga years before they became mainstream practices. She danced, tapped (much to the embarrassment of her children), did handsprings into her 60s, and was a Pilates expert into her 80s. She sang, much to the delight and dismay of those within earshot.

Just before Hurricane Irma, she relocated to Durham, NC in 2017, where her daughter Maggie, a physician, resides, and she spent her last years there in comfort and great care thanks to Maggie and her family, and her outstanding caregivers. She was always eager to learn new things and in her later years tackled Spanish, German, Greek, and Latin.

The family is beyond grateful for the friends and caregivers who loved and supported Helen in St. Augustine and Durham.

Helen is survived by her five daughters Ellen, Wendy, Maggie, Robin and Beth, sons-in-law Lee, Gary, Richard and Chris, ten grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, her sister Lynne Martin Roberts, nieces and nephews, friends of all ages, and Bill Gradison, the father of her children. She is predeceased by her partner Henry Weller and her sister Claire Martin Fairman. She greatly enjoyed the company of Henry’s daughters and grandchildren.

Helen did not strive to meet others’ expectations of what her choices should be, but rather forged her own way, trusting herself while confident in those decisions.  

Her daughters are grateful to have had such a mother, and to have been in her orbit for so many years. She will be greatly missed, but her infectious spirit of optimism, encouragement, acceptance, inspiration, listening well, energy, humor, curiosity and joy, with her up until her final days, remain with us always.


Gifts in her memory can be made to Doctors Without Borders.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Helen Ann Gradison, please visit our flower store.


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