Paula Starkey, 91, first director of Wright Home & Studio Foundation

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Paula Rosales Nelson Starkey, 91, died peacefully on April 11, 2012 in Hanover, N.H. Born in Oak Park, she pursued wide-ranging social, intellectual, and aesthetic interests throughout her life even though her family's economic circumstances during the Great Depression made a formal college education unattainable.

In a professional career spanning 45 years, Ms. Starkey held leadership positions in a variety of non-profit organizations. She was appointed the first executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio Foundation in Oak Park in 1976. She also held key public relations posts for Chicago's WTTW/ Channel 11, the Field Museum of Natural History, and other organizations. Earlier, she was executive secretary for Dr. Bruno Bettelheim at the University of Chicago's Orthogenic School.

Her community activities were grounded in her lifelong efforts on behalf of racial and gender equality. She was an original member of Oak Park's Community Relations Commission, which helped produce the Fair Housing Ordinance in 1968. Committed to the Civil Rights Movement, she joined CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and ESCRU (Episcopal Society of Cultural and Racial Unity) and marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966 to end discrimination in housing, employment, and schools in Chicago. She served as bail bondsman for jailed marchers, personally delivering bail on their behalf at all hours of the day and night.

Locally, she was involved in the League of Women Voters and the Council of Foreign Relations. In later years, she participated in numerous activities at First United Church of Oak Park, where she joined other church members in welcoming gay and lesbian parishioners.

She came from a family of professional musicians, and music was her soul's sustenance. She supported the arts through subscriptions to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Chicago Sinfonieta. She loved to dance and regularly attended ballet and modern dance performances. Her passion for art, architecture, and literature found expression through the OP-RF Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest, the Pleasant Home Foundation, the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association, the Oak Park Conservatory, the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, and the Belles Lettres Society.

Her intellectual curiosity led her from biblical archaeology to architectural and interior design, from Jane Austen to Stephen Hawking, from Georges Bizet to Muddy Waters. An accomplished communicator and a perceptive listener, she had a wide circle of friends who appreciated her unfailing courtesy, gentle diplomacy, personal style, and scarves. She lives on in the hearts of all who knew her.

Paula Starkey is survived by her daughters, Susan Rosales Nelson (Misagh Parsa) and Deborah Rosales Nelson (Steven Kvaal); her grandson, Arlen Parsa. Stepchildren include Anne Starkey Case (Arne), James Starkey Jr. (Ann Harrison), David Starkey (Monica), Ellen Starkey Ribe (John), and Robert Starkey; and numerous grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her first husband, Harry G. Nelson, and her second husband, James A. Starkey. A celebration of her life will be held on Saturday, Aug. 25 at 3 p.m. in the chapel at First United Church, 848 Lake St. in Oak Park. Donations in Paula's name may be made to the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest, P.O. Box 771, Oak Park, IL 60303-0771.

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