By Sallie James
DELRAY BEACH — Longtime Delray Beach resident Elizabeth Cowles Armour, a devoted philanthropist whose selfless goodwill touched the lives of thousands, died on Feb. 7 at home, three days shy of her 97th birthday.
She’d spent decades collecting clothing and medical supplies for migrants, raising money for children with disabilities and working in a local soup kitchen to help people less fortunate.
Her daughter Susan Ridgley recalled helping her mother with food and toy drives as far back as she could remember.
“Whenever she would need extra hands to do something, it was either us or whatever grandchild happened to be around,” Ridgley said. “We collected it and packed it up.”
Mrs. Armour actively volunteered until age 94 — even though her eyesight had begun to fail — collecting, sorting and selling plastic caps for Caps of Love to raise money to buy wheelchairs for children.
“When that organization disbanded, it was the beginning of her decline. Then she didn’t have anything to do,” Ridgley said. “She always had a volunteer job. It kept her going. She always wanted to be doing something.”
Mrs. Armour had served as a trustee at Gulf Stream School, where her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren had attended. According to the Gulf Stream School timeline, she donated Armour House to the school in 2000. She also worked for many years in the school’s library.
Gulf Stream School established the Bessie C. Armour Award for Community Service “in honor of a lady whose name is synonymous with community service.”
“The award was an extension of her volunteering. The school actually picks a child who is continuing to do her work, so each year there is an award given in her name. The playing field is named for her and so is the headmaster’s house because of all she did for the school,” Ridgley said.
In 2000 Mrs. Armour was honored by the Bethesda Hospital Foundation as one of the Women of Grace for her many years of service to The Soup Kitchen in Boynton Beach. Mrs. Armour organized Thanksgiving food drives at St. Andrew’s School and Gulf Stream School, and worked with the Bethesda Hospital Auxiliary, Good Samaritan Hospital, St. Paul’s Episcopal, Bethesda-by-the-Sea and St. George’s churches.
Mrs. Armour was born in Paris, France, on Feb. 10, 1923, to Alice and Knight Cowles. Her father studied architecture there before moving to Chicago, and later to Lake Forest, Illinois, where she and her sister, Edith, grew up. She graduated from The Ethel Walker School and attended Sarah Lawrence College. She married Lester Armour Jr. during World War II, living and raising cattle in Dragoon and Sonoita, Arizona, and Canal Point.
In 1959, the Armours moved to Delray Beach, where she embarked on a lifetime of volunteerism.
“She always wanted to give back and she got other people to do it as well,” her daughter said. “Her whole life had been that way.”
Mrs. Armour is survived by two daughters, Susan Ridgley and Sally Farmer of Delray Beach; a son, Lester Armour III of Wellington; six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
Services were on Feb. 15 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The Soup Kitchen, P.O. Box 741155, Boynton Beach, FL 33474 or Gulf Stream School, 3600 Gulfstream Road, Gulf Stream, FL 33483.