Martha Miller Girdlestone
Dec. 5, 1933 - Sept. 5, 2017
A brilliant light went dim on September 5th with the passing of Martha Miller Girdlestone. Surrounded by her loving family, Martha passed away at her San Carlos home following a courageous 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 83.
A multi-talented woman with boundless energy, Martha accomplished what few women of her generation were able to: she balanced a successful career with being a devoted daughter, niece, wife and mother. When she was 12 years old, Martha’s essay on “what I want to be when I grow up” announced the passion that was to be her lifelong profession: interior design. She would go on to earn great success in that field while balancing the responsibilities of a working wife and mother.
Martha was born to Dr. James and Irene Richart of Terre Haute, IN. Although an only child, she had a large extended family and grew up alongside eight girl cousins. Her group of high school girlfriends, known as “The Big 20,” remain friends to this day. Martha attended Indiana University, earning a degree in Art History. She was a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority.
In 1956, she married her high school sweetheart, Robert Miller, a marriage that would last 34 years. The couple settled in Orange County, California where Bob was employed. They had two daughters, Carrie and Ellyn, and were active in church, social and civic groups. Martha obtained her teaching credential and taught part-time at Santa Ana College while launching her interior design practice, Martha Miller Interiors, later re-named Design Trends, Inc.
With her daughters in high school, Martha became the spokesperson for The Broadway Department Stores’ home furnishings department and for Wesco Fabrics, lecturing to retail and industry groups throughout the U.S. When the family relocated to Los Altos Hills in 1977, Martha found herself returning to the classroom. After earning her master’s degree in educational administration, she became the founding director of the interior design department at Academy of Art College (now University) in San Francisco, building the B.F.A. curriculum and earning the program’s original CIDA accreditation. She served as director for 12 years and was an allied member of ASID and NCIDQ.
Martha excelled as an educator and motivator. She mentored students from around the world and took immense pride in their success. After retiring from the Academy, she joined the interior design faculty at Cañada College in Redwood City and developed and taught courses for U.C. Santa Cruz and San Diego. She retired from teaching in 2003. Martha saw just about every corner of the world, often traveling with her daughters, a cousin or good friend. In retirement, she volunteered as a disaster preparedness instructor with the American Red Cross and became a lifetime member of the Tiffany Circle Society of Women Leaders. She endowed a scholarship for her sorority chapter at U.C. Berkeley and was a popular pianist at Filoli. She also began collecting early California plein-air paintings.
In 2000, Martha met Howard Girdlestone of San Carlos, a retired businessman and local philanthropist. They married in 2002 and shared 15 wonderful years together until Howard’s passing in July 2016. Martha then turned her attention to tackling cancer with her trademark energy, optimism and determination. She made the most of every day void of complaint or self-pity. She was buoyed by the loving support of her family and dear friends from church, bridge club, book club and the design world. Her faith kept her strong and fearless.
Martha’s truest joy was always her family. She was devoted to her husband, daughters and two grandsons, Ted and Evan Davis, who were the lights of her life. She imparted in them many philosophical lessons, her love of music and design, an eye for beauty, the importance of education, her deep faith and her generosity of self. Martha was a gifted pianist and creative dynamo, a superb homemaker, gardener and hostess, and a loyal friend. She was beautiful, resilient, spunky, outspoken, gregarious and unforgettable. Her presence will be greatly missed.
She leaves behind daughters Carrie Miller Drake of San Mateo and Ellyn Miller Davis of Green Valley, CA; grandsons Theodore Davis and Evan Davis; and son in-law William Hulsey. Friends are invited to join a celebration of Martha’s life on Saturday, October 7 at 2 p.m. at Trinity Presbyterian Church, San Carlos. Donations may be directed to the American Red Cross of the Bay Area or the Trinity Presbyterian Church Foundation.