Rosalie Yerkes Figge; Iris Grower's Garden Lured Many Visitors

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rosalie Yerkes Figge, 96, a cancer research assistant, editor and iris expert whose name is synonymous with a deep-violet variation of the flower, died of congestive heart failure April 10 at the Stella Maris nursing-care center in Timonium, Md. She was a resident of Towson.

For the first half of her life, Mrs. Figge took care of her family and supported the cancer research efforts of her husband, Frank H.J. Figge, chairman of the department of anatomy at the University of Maryland Medical School. She oversaw a colony of 10,000 laboratory mice, and she assisted in the editing and proofreading of the "Sobotta/Figge Atlas of Human Anatomy" (1974).

Later, her passion for irises energized the national and international community of iris lovers, in which she was considered "an institution." Her garden, with its arboretum-quality specimen plants, attracted visitors from around the world. While working with the American Iris Society, she attended almost every national convention and numerous international iris gatherings.

She was a past president of the Reblooming Iris Society, a division of AIS; a recipient of the society's Distinguished Service Award; and past president of the Maryland-based Francis Scott Key chapter of AIS.

Mrs. Figge, a woman of exceptional insight and wit, encouraged beginning iris growers, said Clarence Mahan, a McLean resident and past president of the Reblooming Iris Society.

"An evangelist for Siberian, Japanese and especially reblooming irises, she was proud of being the first to promote reblooming irises in Maryland," Mahan said. "The late Jane McKnew of Pasadena, Maryland, one of her iris proteges, bred and named a beautiful deep-violet reblooming iris in her honor. The iris 'Rosalie Figge' is now one of the most popular garden irises in Europe as well as in North America."

Mrs. Figge was born in Henderson, N.C., and was a 1931 graduate of Goucher College in Towson. She married in 1932 and moved to Baltimore.

Over the years, Mrs. Figge advocated for her causes and pursued her vocations as if they were full-time jobs. She belonged to numerous genealogical, horticultural and conservation organizations. She had been a chapter president of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a docent for the DAR Museum in Washington. She was editing a book manuscript for a friend the week before she died.

A stickler for parliamentary procedure, she belonged to the Edith S. Stidman unit of the Maryland Association of Parliamentarians and was parliamentarian of the national American Iris Society at the time of her death.

She served on the board of Florence Crittenton Services and was a life member of the Girl Scouts of the USA. She established a fund to support undergraduate biology research at Colorado College. Goucher College named her a "Goucher Treasure" for 2006.

Mrs. Figge, an intellectually curious and intrepid traveler, had visited all the continents except Antarctica. In her seventies, she took her grandchildren on trips to Asia. She studied German at a language school near Munich and visited five ancient civilizations in one calendar year. Her most recent trip was to England in 2002.

Her husband of 41 years died in 1973. A son died in infancy in 1943.

Survivors include two daughters, RosalieAnn Figge Beasley of Leonardtown and Barbara Figge Fox of Princeton, N.J.; seven grandchildren; and 18 great grandchildren.

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