In Memory of

Perdita

Lee

Welch

Obituary for Perdita Lee Welch

Perdita Welch, a long-time resident of the Rosslyn neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, known for her walking and her ability to outwalk and outpace people much younger, took her first step into a long, beautiful journey on the other side in the early morning of Sunday, September 4, 2022. Perdita fought a courageous two-year battle with lung cancer, but ultimately, she was unable to outwalk it. She took this first step into eternity in the comfort of her home surrounded by her three children, and the flowers and candles she cherished so much in life.

Perdita was born on September 17, 1941, in San Jose, California, the third of four children. She was raised in Sacramento. An original “California Girl” who never lost her love for the sun and the pool, Perdita grew up chasing produce trucks down the streets of Sacramento to collect lost cargo that had fallen out, picked almonds and fruit at California orchards, and enjoyed Mexican food long before it was popular in the rest of the country. As a teenager, she frequented the beach, the local burger joints, and Lake Tahoe where she once threw tomatoes at the kids who put down the “Sacramento girls” and had run-ins with both Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. She was in the first graduating class of La Sierra High School in Sacramento and attended American River Junior College. Standing at five feet and ten inches, she was a gorgeous teenager with an impeccable sense of style who modeled for local department stores. She possessed a fierce and fiery independent spirit that would set the tone of a life full of travel and adventures.

While working at Aerojet in the early 60s in Folsom, CA, Perdita met Gerry Welch, a transplant from Seattle with a degree in mechanical engineering who decided to leave the only hometown he had ever known and settle in a new place for fresh experiences. They were married in 1962 and decided to relocate to the Washington DC area where Gerry would attend law school. They settled in Falls Church during a time when the country was changing rapidly. At that time, some segregation still existed in Virginia. Newly pregnant with her first child, Perdita wanted to attend the 1963 March on Washington to show her solidarity with the civil rights movement. However, Gerry dissuaded her since he had been accidentally tear-gassed in more than one demonstration. She always regretted missing this pivotal moment in history but happily got to rectify it by attending both the 1987 and the 2020 anniversary events of the March on Washington. Additionally, Perdita supported the causes of not just civil rights, but also the women’s liberation movement and the growing opposition to the war in Vietnam. In her own small way, she became involved in all of these issues.

In the mid to late 1960s, Perdita and Gerry welcomed three children into the family: Mikel, Dani, and Tim. With the larger family, they decided to relocate to a new house in Burke, VA. There, Perdita carved out a life for her children, most notably by signing them up for the Lake Braddock summer swim team (against their wishes) in the Northern Virginia Swim League. She countered their resistance and tears with bribes and encouragement. The summer swim meets ended up being one of the most memorable events of their childhood. Perdita contributed to carpool duties, cheered for the kids during meets, and made impromptu sundaes for their swimmer friends. On occasion, she even hauled a group of swimmers down to Kings Dominion to celebrate the end of a great season. She showed her mischievous and playful spirit to the kids by playing a memorable prank on them during one of Mikel’s birthday slumber parties by scaring them through the back door window by shining a flashlight on her face with a pantyhose pulled over her head. The kids helped to carry the team to the top division in the league over a four-year period in the 1970s with unforgettable team spirit pep rallies, pool parties, and awards celebrations that made a lifetime of memories for all.

Meanwhile, Perdita’s increased exposure to different ideas, cultures, and places eventually led to a career in travel. In the early 70s, Perdita went on a trip to the Soviet Union that changed her life. The organizer of the tour was so impressed with her engagement and interest in Russian culture during the trip that he invited her to work for his company. She decided to take that leap and began organizing tour groups to visit the USSR. Due to the lack of diplomatic relations, there were lots of logistics involved. Visas to visit the USSR and travel logistics to and within the country had layers of complexity, but Perdita quickly learned the tricks of the trade. It wasn’t long before she frequently went back and forth between the US and the USSR. She learned how to package and sell tours to Americans who were curious about the closed culture of the USSR. She befriended many Russian tour guides and knew how to use coveted Western consumables like cigarettes, gum, and candy to flag down Soviet taxi drivers with ease. The Welch household filled up with a plethora of treasures from Russia, including hand-painted lacquer boxes and eggs, the famous nesting Matryoshka dolls, Russian toys, souvenirs from the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow, many pieces of Russian art, decorations, and Lomonosov tea sets. These treasures set the theme of interior designs for many rooms in the Welch households for years to come. Eventually, Perdita donated many Russian keepsakes to the Hillwood Estate & Museum in Washington, DC.

As her children aged, Perdita also ensured that her kids would have a robust appreciation for the culture and history of the United States by taking advantage of the family’s proximity to Washington DC and historical sites in Virginia. History was of paramount interest to Perdita throughout her life and travels. She took them to all of the museums in and around the National Mall multiple times, as well as to historical sites, such as Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Williamsburg. She wanted to make sure that her kids knew where they came from and where they were going as the nation continued to rapidly change throughout the 1970s.

During this decade, Perdita also began to develop her love and her reputation for walking and walking fast – easily over 4mph, if not 5. Long before the phrase carbon footprint existed in the common vernacular, she began walking regularly to the local grocery stores as a form of exercise. She would often force her kids to go as well, dismissing the complaints of cramps and tired feet or the fears of climbing over the Lake Braddock Secondary School football field fence as a shortcut. She always rewarded them with a treat from the Peoples Drug Store for their efforts. She loved to show family, friends, and guests around Washington DC by foot, and it was often that people far younger than her would comment about how fast she walked and how they futilely strained to keep up with her. The common catchphrase over the years amongst everyone was, “Boy, does she move fast!”

Indeed she was one to never sit still. In the late 1970s, husband Gerry accepted a new job in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and the family tearfully said goodbye to their beloved Northern Virginia home for a five-day trek across the United States to their new home in the Mountain West. There, Perdita continued her passion for packaging tours and traveling to the Soviet Union and traveled with increased frequency. However, Idaho Falls proved to be a difficult place to conduct an international business, so three years later, Perdita relocated back to Arlington, Virginia, the place she would call home for the remainder of her life. Her business flourished. Eventually, she made her way up to Vice President of a small, private tour company that specialized in trips to the USSR. In fact, Perdita really ran the company as she would proudly state in later years. She traveled from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok and every Soviet republic in between. During tours on the Trans-Siberian Railway, she was famous for bringing squeegees, Windex, and paper towels to clean the dirty windows of the train cars! She came to know the location and the staff of many embassies in Washington DC since her tours often included other countries. She made countless connections and friends with associates in the travel business and with customers who worked for organizations that she sold tours to, such as university alumni departments and art museums. The FBI even took some interest in her frequent Soviet travels!

Before Gerry and the kids relocated from Idaho Falls to the Seattle area in the 80s, Perdita and Gerry purchased a brand new condominium in Sun Valley, Idaho. Downhill skiing was Gerry’s passion and Perdita was showing a budding interest in cross-country skiing. They loved the idea of having a place in the first destination winter resort in the USA that also boasted the very first chairlift in the world. The resort attracted many celebrities and jet setters, and later, Perdita and the family would recall run-ins with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Diana Ross, John Kerry, Maria Shriver, Melissa Gilbert, and many ice-skating Olympians. Although they rented the condo out for many years, Perdita & Gerry reserved the condo for Christmas ski vacations and summer outdoor adventures, forming infinite family memories. They eagerly hosted friends to share the rich history and ambiance of Sun Valley with them.

Meanwhile, Perdita established a life for herself outside of work in Arlington. She loved going to the gym at the crack of dawn every morning. She walked from one end of Northern Virginia to the other every day. She got involved in various committees in her building and was known for her propensity to pick up garbage, water the flowers, and ensure neighbors were complying with the building rules. She volunteered with the Arlington Jazz Festival, the local election polling station, and occasionally, for A-SPAN homeless organization. She always wanted to help and was grateful to others who helped or reached out. It was woven into the very fabric of her being to send thank-you cards to friends and acquaintances whenever she was invited to a gathering or whenever she was given a gift.

Though Perdita worked in the travel business and lived apart from Gerry, they still found time to travel for pleasure together. Whether it was Europe, the Baltics, Mexico, Sun Valley, Cuba, Greece, Turkey, Key West, Hawaii, or the Gulf Coast, they embraced not only travel but the history of the places that they visited. They actively participated in historical tours of locations that they visited and eagerly shared those histories with family and friends alike. The Welch household filled up with books about historical figures, events, and places.

When Gerry was transferred from Seattle to Atlanta in the mid-90s, one grandchild had already come into Perdita’s life and two more were on the way. Though the family was now scattered across the country, Perdita made the most of entertaining the grandkids since she could make travel arrangements in her sleep. Because of Perdita’s planning and generosity, the grandkids got to participate in such adventures as the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a winter break trip to Disney World, and summer river rafting and pool adventures in Sun Valley. The family all came together to celebrate milestones, such as grandkids graduating from school and Perdita and Gerry’s 50th anniversary in 2012. Gerry and Pedita themselves came together in 2013 when they sold the home in Atlanta, and Gerry relocated to Arlington to live with Mom permanently for the first time since 1982! Meanwhile, the family continued to meet for more milestones, such as Gerry’s 80th birthday in Arlington in 2015, a trip to New York in June 2016 to celebrate a grandchild’s graduation from high school, and a special trip to Palm Springs in May 2018 with the entire family to celebrate another grandchild graduating from college. For that trip, Perdita and Gerry rented a midcentury house high on a hilltop with a sparkling pool facing the lonesome, desert foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains for the whole family to enjoy. They loved that trip so much that they hoped to get back sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.

On June 27, 2019, Perdita’s beloved husband of 57 years passed away after a period of declining health during the first part of the year. After her first Christmas without her husband, the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon the world, and no one was able to travel at all. Then in the fall of 2020, Perdita was diagnosed with squamous non-small cell lung cancer. Though Perdita had always been a fighter and faced the battle courageously, she increasingly needed the support of her children. After surviving a heart attack on Christmas Day 2021, Perdita had one of her kids with her for the rest of her life since they took turns being with her. After a fall in August, Perdita’s health rapidly declined and she was admitted to home hospice care on August 23, where Mikel, Dani, and Tim together cared for her in her remaining days. She died in the early morning hours of September 4 in her own home (her fervent wish) with all three children sleeping just feet from her. Mikel commented that she is finally walking free again in heaven with Gerry walking rapidly 300 yards behind her shouting, “Perdita! WAIT!” Knowing Perdita, she probably blew right by him without even seeing him.

Perdita is survived by her children, Mikel (Ed), Dani, and Tim; siblings Diane and Stanley; and four grandchildren: Emily, Charlotte, Owen, and Diamond; numerous nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, and grand-nephews. She was preceded in death by her husband (Gerry), her parents, and one sister.

Mom, we hope you do not rest in peace. Instead, walk as far and as long as you want in the hereafter and know that someday, we will walk with you again, perhaps not beside you, but definitely somewhere behind you. We will literally always have your back. We love you.