Queen Anne's queen of compassion

Rebecca Dickstein will be remembered for her unfettered kindness

She bothered everybody she ever met - but in a good way.

That was Rebecca Dickstein, born in Kiev but who spent most of her 93 years in the Puget Sound area and particular, Queen Anne. Anybody in lower Queen Anne could tell you who she was, be it the cashier at the McDonald's at Denny and 5th, tellers at the local bank and just about anybody at the former Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where for decades she worked in the circulation department. They'd see the wiry spitfire make her daily rounds through the neighborhood, stopping to say hello to anybody, but in particular those in need. She'd give food to the homeless, she would hug them and give them at a moment's notice the only dose of love or compassion they'd get in a lifetime.

"There wasn't a street person who didn't know her, because she always had money to give them," said lifelong friend, Diane Layton, who worked with her at the P-I.

But all good things must pass, and on Aug. 28, Dickstein died. She was 93.

She was born in 1916 in Kiev as the Bolshevik Revolution led by Vladimir Lenin entered its infancy. She remembered her parents, both Jewish, being interrogated by Red Army leadership. She recalled her mother standing at the doorway where army officials approached her and said, "are there any Jews here?" to which she replied, "I hate Jewish people," turned and spat.

Shortly thereafter, her father, sensing time for them was running out, fled to America to start a new life for his family. He wound up in Tacoma, and once he found a job and a place to live, sent for his wife and three children. Dickstein was 6 years old when she arrived in Tacoma.

She went to Lincoln High School in Tacoma and later took various jobs including a waitressing gig at the Washington Athletic Club and later her job at the P-I.

"She was absolutely beautiful when I met her," Layton remembered, as she took a break from cleaning out Dickstein's ground-floor condominium at West Olympic Drive across the street from Kinnear Park. She was briefly married and had a son, Steven, who went on to train at Johns Hopkins University and became a child psychologist in Beverly Hills. Her working life was dedicated toward paying for her son's education. She never married again, was single for the rest of her life.

As she got older, Dickstein's compassion and random acts of kindness flourished. At the Safeway in lower Queen Anne, she became known as the "Kissing Customer," Layton said. She would hug and kiss anyone who looked like they needed some kindness. Layton remembered walking with Dickstein once along Highland Drive when suddenly Dickstein stopped and told Layton to wait for a moment. Layton watched at Dickstein went over to a man who was despondent and vulnerable. The two talked at length, and when Dickstein returned to Layton she said had convinced the young man not to commit suicide.

Dickstein walked and walked until her dying day. Her black, worn-out Reboks that lay in her courtyard were witnesses to the miles she walked. She'd walk three to eight miles a day, often to the Kingdome and back. She met a lot of people along the way and made sure she spread her compassion, always.

She would wave and give candy bars to the men working at nearby construction projects. Like overgrown Boy Scouts, they happily helped her across the street. She started making trips three or four times a month to the Union Mission Gospel at South Othello Street to donate food or clothing.

She donated food to the foodbank at Seventh and Cherry streets. If anybody reciprocated the kindness, she would be sure to write a letters of praise to their superiors, such as at the Safeway or McDonald's.

Even when she broke her hip, she would not slow down, insisting on walking though in pain. But her body could no longer endure the walks and she fell again.

So Layton brought her to an assisted care facility. Earlier in the summer, staff there called Layton telling her Dickstein had gone into a coma. Layton rushed over. She saw her in bed and put a cool cloth on her forehead, soothing her. She opened her eyes and they held hands. She looked at Layton and said, "You'll never have anybody who loves you as much as I do."

Sitting in Dickstein's courtyard, Layton fought back tears, recalling that day, which ended when she received that dreaded call from staff at the facility.

"It's been hard," she said. "I've known her for so long."

Nearly all of Dickstein's belongings will go to the Union Mission Gospel. Asked if Dickstein had given her anything particularly special, Layton replied without skipping a beat, "friendship."[[In-content Ad]]