Thursday, August 23, 2007

Helen C. ElsonPastor's Wife

Helen C. Elson, 92, a fixture in Washington religious and political circles as the wife of Edward L.R. Elson, an influential cleric who served as chaplain of the U.S. Senate and pastor of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, died Aug. 20 of a heart ailment.

Mrs. Elson died at Ingleside at Rock Creek, a retirement and care facility that had been her home for the past decade.

She married Edward Elson in California in 1936 and accompanied him to the Washington area in 1946, when he began a 27-year pastoral career at what became National Presbyterian Church. A longtime confidant of presidents, he baptized and confirmed President Dwight D. Eisenhower and was Senate chaplain from 1969 to 1981. He died in 1993.

Mrs. Elson periodically worked outside the home -- as a dean's assistant at Catholic University, in the development office at Mount Vernon Seminary -- but her primary responsibilities were as her husband's helpmate, social host and homemaker.

In 1966, she was named D.C. Mother of the Year by the local Mothers' Association.

"My wife is a wholesome, well-rounded person," her husband said at the time of the award. "She is reverent and religious without being sanctimonious."

Mrs. Elson helped her husband write several books. She accompanied him around the world, often on assignments to the Middle East, where he sometimes carried presidential messages.

Helen Louise Chittick was born in Des Moines on Jan. 19, 1915. She was raised in La Jolla, Calif., where her parents became prominent landowners.

She was studying history and French at the University of California at Los Angeles when she left in her senior year to marry Dr. Elson, then a young widower. She had been a church secretary for him in La Jolla. As a young woman, she also taught dancing to blind children.

She became known for designing and making hats, many for family weddings. In her 80s, she attended a summer program on British romantic poets at Oxford University.

She was an elder of National Presbyterian Church, where she did volunteer work in the library and for bazaars.

Survivors include four children, Eleanor Heginbotham of North Bethesda, Beverly Elson Gray of Washington, Savannah, Ga., and Orange, Va., Mary Faith Suarez of Martinsburg, W.Va., and David Edward Elson of Sharpsburg, Md.; a brother; a sister; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

-- Adam Bernstein

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