Cecilia Geyelin, 84, Dies; Interior Designer, Hostess and Scion of Noted Family

Mrs. Geyelin had a brief career as a modern dancer before marrying Philip L. Geyelin, a Washington Post editor and columnist who won the Pulitzer Prize.
Mrs. Geyelin had a brief career as a modern dancer before marrying Philip L. Geyelin, a Washington Post editor and columnist who won the Pulitzer Prize. (Family Photo)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cecilia "Sherry" Geyelin, 84, an interior designer and gregarious member of a storytelling brigade who was also the widow of Washington Post editorial page editor and columnist Philip L. Geyelin, died May 3 at Sibley Memorial Hospital of pneumonia.

Mrs. Geyelin (pronounced JAY-lin) was the scion of a Washington family with a long pedigree in politics and finance. On her mother's side, she was descended from Sen. John Sherman (R-Ohio), a Cabinet member of two presidents who also was the principal author of the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act, which has been used to combat price-fixing and monopolies.

Her father, Chauncey Parker, was a prominent Washington investment banker who, after World War II, was U.S. assistant high commissioner for Germany and a director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Mrs. Geyelin had a brief career as a modern dancer before marrying in 1950, and she retained in later life the nimble and elegant bearing of her years onstage. She accompanied her husband on his assignments as a Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent before he was named Post editorial page editor in the late 1960s. Geyelin, who was awarded the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing for his essays explaining the paper's shift of support against the Vietnam War, died in 2004.

Mrs. Geyelin established herself as a formidable hostess in the 1960s and from that grew an interest in interior design and antique furniture. She started her own business decorating many Washington homes but was best known for her redecoration of Bacon House, a historic mansion about a block from the White House. It became home to the association of retired diplomats and consular officers known as Dacor.

The Dacor Bacon House project, completed in the mid-1980s at a cost of nearly $2 million, was featured in Architectural Digest in 1988. Mrs. Geyelin was credited with successfully merging the furnishings, art and memorabilia from the diplomatic group's collection with the antique furniture and accessories bequeathed by the hostess, Virginia Murray Bacon, who had owned the property.

Cecilia Sherman Parker was a native Washingtonian and a 1943 graduate of the private St. Timothy's School, now in Stevenson, Md. She was a nurse's aide at Washington's old Emergency Hospital during World War II and subsequently became a member of Charles Weidman's modern dance troupe in New York.

Survivors include four children, Mary-Sherman Willis of Woodville, Va., Emile "Milo" Geyelin of Glen Ridge, N.J., Philip Geyelin Jr. of Raleigh, N.C., and Cecily "Lili" Geyelin of Minneapolis; a brother; and six grandchildren.

In her later years, Mrs. Geyelin was a board member of the Washington Storytellers Theatre, which preserves the art of storytelling through workshops and performances at area schools, nursing homes and churches.

While performing in January at SpeakeasyDC, a monthly gathering of storytellers, she revealed the circumstances under which she tried marijuana for the first and only time.

It was the early 1970s, she said, and her children had tired of listening to their parents condemn recreational drugs without having tried them. She and her husband found themselves with a rare evening alone and decided to experiment with smoking pot.

"Nobody told us we didn't have to puff on it every time it came around," she said.

The Geyelins did not expect to get a call that night from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and they struggled to suppress their giggles and get through the call. They vowed never to smoke marijuana again.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company