Ethel Garrett, 89, a leader in the social and cultural life in this city for the past half-century who also was a leader in several civic and volunteer groups, died of a heart ailment March 15 at her home in Washington.

Mrs. Garrett was an original trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, served on the executive committee of the National Symphony Orchestra and belonged to the member collectors committee of the National Gallery of Art. She also was a member of the acquisitions committee of the State Department's Americana Fund and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

But for the past 25 years, perhaps her most notable work was for a cause she largely led. A member of the Friends of the National Arboretum, she worked to raise the money necessary to relocate 24 columns from the old East Front of the U.S. Capitol to a classical setting on the 444-acre arboretum.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the columns were removed from the portico and dumped near the Anacostia River. Although the old columns were no longer utilitarian (they were too fragile to shore up the Capitol's new white marble facade), they were -- and are -- both beautiful and historic. Designed by Capitol architect Benjamin Latrobe and originally cut from George Washington's sandstone quarry, they measure three feet in diameter, are 24 feet long, have a four-foot base and are capped by four-foot Corinthian capitals.

Until shortly before her death, Mrs. Garrett directed efforts to have the columns re-erected. In addition to fund raising, she successfully lobbied the Architect of the Capitol, Congress and the Agriculture Department for authority to carry on her plan. She attended congressional hearings, met individually with officials and lobbied effectively at dinners and teas. The plans have progressed to the point that groundbreaking of an acropolis, designed by landscape architect Russell Page, is scheduled for May. The columns themselves are at the Arboretum.

If she was "a feisty, diminutive woman," as a recent New York Times article called her, Mrs. Garrett also was an enormously hospitable and charming hostess whose views and causes were only advanced by the success of her social gatherings.

She was born Ethel Shields in Pittsburgh on May 7, 1896. Before moving to Washington more than 50 years ago, she was a founder of the Pittsburgh Junior League and founding member of both the Community Chest of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

From 1942 to 1947 she served on the D.C. Playground Commission. She also was a member of the women's board of the old Emergency Hospital and belonged to the Committee of 100 on the Federal City. During World War II, she was active in relief work and Red Cross activities, serving as chairwoman for the volunteer services of the D.C. Red Cross from 1943 to 1945.

Mrs. Garrett was a member of St. John's Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square and of the Capitol Hill, Chevy Chase, and 1925 F Street clubs, and she was a life member of the Republican National Committee. She also was an accomplished horsewoman and member of several hunts.

Her first husband, Harry Darlington Jr., whom she married in 1917, died in 1931. She and her second husband, George Angus Garrett, who was an investment banker, civic leader and ambassador to Ireland, were married for 36 years before his death in 1971.

Mrs. Garrett's survivors include three children by her first marriage, Harry III, of Marshall, Va., McCullough Darlington of Washington, and Elaine Fowler of Gladstone, N.J.; six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.