Unlikely friendship extends beyond homeowner's death

Construction superintendent Barry Martin met Edith Macefield late in her life. Now, per her last will and testament, he's left to care for what the Ballard woman left behind.

Macefield's blue Chevy Cavalier, with the "Ballard Native" bumper sticker, still sits in front of her two-story brown house. Gray concrete walls rise up on three sides of the little home.

Having lived her life without fanfare, Macefield became a Seattle legend at age 84 when she refused to sell her tumbledown home to make way for another condos-and-commercial building slated for construction on her Northwest 46th Street block. She died June 15 at age 86 having declined a $1 million offer for her $120,000 house.

According to her will, filed in King County Superior Court, Macefield chose Martin to take charge of her estate after her death. Court documents offer no specifics on how Macefield wished her estate divided, referring instead to guidelines in a living trust she created 15 years ago.

At first blush, Martin seems an odd choice for the job. Employed by Ledcor Construction, Martin came into Macefield's life as the senior superintendent in charge of erecting the development to which Macefield refused to sell.

But Martin and Macefield struck up an abiding, if unexpected, friendship after the builders set to work around her home.

"There was just something about her," Martin said. "She sucked you in."

In interviews before her death, Macefield said Martin had joined in her daily routine, driving her to appointments and hanging around her kitchen. She befriended workers on the site, becoming something of a grandmother to them.

A widow without living children, Macefield drafted a will that directs that her entire estate be distributed through a trust in her name. The arrangement allows Macefield's possessions and property to be parceled out in private, and Martin declined to discuss specifics about how the estate will be divided.

As to the house, Martin said its future remains unknown.

"There wasn't anything spelled out to save it for posterity," Martin said. "As a matter of fact, she just wanted to keep the house long enough to finish her use of it."

Macefield, Martin said, was lucid to the end.

Martin said she had a clarity of purpose that he said he finds common in the elderly. She knew what she wanted -- to keep her home -- and what she didn't need.

"She never had any problems telling you what was real and what was true," Martin said. "Our lives are so hectic, and I guess we make them that way, but once we get to that age those things don't matter anymore."

Since Macefield's death, Martin said, he and others have been working to put her affairs in order. It's a long effort that may outlast construction on the 46th Street building, which is slated for completion in October.