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Harriett Ghormley, 85; Rolling Hills Resident Raised Money to Help Orphanages in Mexico

Times Staff Writer

Harriett Ghormley, a philanthropist who helped found Project Mexico, which supports several orphanages in northern Mexico, died Aug. 2. She was 85.

She died at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance of complications after heart surgery, said her son, Tom. She was a longtime resident of Rolling Hills.

In the early 1960s, Ghormley and her husband, Carl, and several friends launched Project Mexico, a fundraising fiesta at the Ghormleys’ Rolling Hills ranch. The events each attracted more than 1,000 people and raised money to build dormitories and classrooms at orphanages in Baja.

A number of other families got involved in the project and did most of the construction work. The project’s supporters also delivered food and clothes to the orphanages.

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Ghormley also became president of several fundraising committees dedicated to the health and education of children in her area. In 1984 she received an outstanding service award from Palos Verdes Estates.

“She never once described her efforts as work,” Tom Ghormley said of his mother this week. “She mentioned them as fun and a joy.”

Ghormley and her family attracted attention in 1982 when they finished a walking trip that covered the entire California coast and took 18 years to complete. Walking on weekends and during family vacations, the Ghormleys began at the Mexican border in Tijuana in September 1964 and stayed near the beach as much as possible.

In their most productive years, 1972 and 1974, they covered more than 100 miles. Their shortest distance was 4.7 miles in 1968, the year Carl Ghormley fell off a ladder and broke his ankle. Over the years, the Ghormleys’ grandchildren as well as friends and neighbors joined in the trek.

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“It’s the most fun we’ve ever had,” Harriett Ghormley told The Times in 1975. Seven years later, the family crossed the Oregon border carrying an American flag as they ended their walk.

Born Harriett Hessell in Beverly Hills, Ghormley met her future husband at UCLA, where she majored in history and received her degree in the late 1930s.

Besides her philanthropic activities, Ghormley had her own flower business, “Beautiful Weddings,” which she opened in 1970 after a friend asked her to arrange the flowers for her wedding. In the early 1990s she scaled down her business and renamed it “From the Garden.” She continued it until her death.

Besides her husband and her son Tom, Ghormley is survived by sons Justus and Miles; daughter Maggie Ghormley LePley; 12 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday at the Neighborhood Church, 415 Paseo del Mar, Palos Verdes Estates. Contributions in her name can be made to Project Mexico, 2 Johns Canyon Road, Rolling Hills, CA 90274.


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