Helen Sirkin, economist and museum docent

September 22, 2013

Helen Sirkin, a former economist with the Marshall Plan in Europe who later became a docent at the Freer and Sackler galleries in Washington, died Sept. 1 at a hospital in San Francisco, where she lived for the past three years. She was 88.

She had complications from corticobasal ganglionic degeneration, a degenerative neurological disorder, her daughter Susannah Sirkin said.

Mrs. Sirkin lived in Bethesda from 1957 to 2010 and volunteered from 1987 to 1993 with Iona, an organization that provides services for the elderly. She was a docent at the Freer and Sackler, the Smithsonian Institution’s museums of Asian art, from 2001 to 2007.

Helen Winsor Ball was born in Woodstock, Ontario, and grew up in Greenwich, Conn. She received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1946 from Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., and was elected a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

After college, she moved to New York and worked in the Chinese section of the United Nations. In 1947 and 1948, she was director of the student division of United World Federalists, an activist organization promoting a democratic form of world government.

She moved to London in 1948 to work as an economist with the Marshall Plan, a U.S. effort to assist the postwar recovery in Europe. She lived in London for nine years.

After her marriage, she accompanied her husband, a U.S. Foreign Service officer, on assignments to Madras (now Chennai), India, from 1963 to 1966 and to Athens from 1967 to 1972.

Mrs. Sirkin, who converted to Judaism when she married her husband in 1951, was a member of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington.

She received a master’s degree in education and human development from George Washington University in 1980. She traveled to China several times and enjoyed skiing at a home she owned in New Hampshire.

Her husband of 55 years, Abraham Sirkin, died in 2007. Survivors include four children, David W. Sirkin of Irvine and Salinas, Calif., Susannah M. Sirkin of Boston, Samuel E. Sirkin of Portland, Ore., and Leah B. Sirkin of San Francisco; and eight grandchildren.

— Matt Schudel