Natalie Dunlap was a Renaissance woman who relished a good book, good food and the spiritual beneficence of plants.

To Ms. Dunlap, a landscape designer, “A nice garden and pleasant landscape was comforting – soothe your soul, so to speak,” said her son, Al DuMais of Lisbon.

“Nan” Dunlap died Friday at the Highlands in Topsham. She was 91.

Ms. Dunlap, who was born in Ohio and moved to Maine in 1945, attended Purdue University in Indiana as a young woman. She took several years off before deciding to complete her degree, earning a bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Southern Maine in the late 1950s.

“She always liked to figure out what made people tick. Maybe that was it,” her son said.

Ms. Dunlap was a close follower of contemporary affairs, a library trustee and someone who volunteered in schools and on literacy programs. She ran unsuccessfully for the Maine Legislature many years ago in Lewiston, where she lived before moving to Topsham. “She wasn’t afraid to get into a fray,” her son said.

One battle she took on was as a founding member of the Maine Memorial Society, a group that sought to make it easier for people when they died to be cremated without requiring expensive funeral preparations.

“She believed there should be an easier, cheaper way for people to do what they had to do,” her son said. “They ought to have the option. She also thought (cremation) took up less land, so we wouldn’t need as many cemeteries.”

Later, she worked on the campaign of independent candidate for governor Angus King, who went on to win two terms in the Blaine House.

“She liked Angus, liked what he was talking about and made a real effort to support him,” her son said. “I think mostly it was that basically, at the time, he was an outsider, not from the political run. She felt he had a different outlook on it, to her a refreshing one.”

King visited Ms. Dunlap at the Highlands just days before she died.

“She was one of the very first people to express interest in my campaign in 1994,” King said Monday. “I got a little handwritten note from out of the blue, something to the effect: ‘I think you’d be a great governor and I’d like to help you.’ She was involved at a time when I could count my supporters on a hand and a half.”

King described her as “just a lovely person” but also “tough and formidable.”

For all her activism and community involvement, Ms. Dunlap particularly enjoyed the company of plants. As a landscape architect, she worked with property owners to develop a green blueprint, then advised them on flowers and shrubs that would produce a unique appearance.

“She always loved plants and flowers and gardens. She just enjoyed being able to create another one,” her son said.

Ms. Dunlap often traveled the state to visit museums and libraries. Later, she traveled to hospitals and nursing homes as part of her work for the Maine Bureau of Elder and Adult Services, putting her sociology degree to work by collecting information about hepatitis C rates or elder abuse.

Over the years, she developed a rapport with the caregivers and administrators she interacted with, her son said.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]