Obituary: Tiiu (Rodima) Gray-Fow, 82

WHITEWATER, WI—Tiiu (Rodima) Gray-Fow, age 82, died at home on April 6, 2024, from the late effects of a heart attack that she suffered several months earlier. She was born in Tartu, Estonia, and spent her childhood in the shadow of World War II. When Tiiu was three years old, her family fled Estonia between the retreating Nazi army and advancing Soviet forces which were to occupy Estonia for the next fifty years. Young as she was, she still recalled their wild flight from midland Estonia to the harbor at Tallin, and the red glow in the sky from Tartu burning in the distance. She grew up in various German refugee camps, most notably the Estonian camp in the Alpine village of Geislingen where she spent almost three years and developed an abiding love of the mountains. At age ten, she emigrated to America with her parents and settled in the Lakewood area of New Jersey where a community of Estonian exiles was forming. Both Tiiu and her father contracted tuberculosis in America. Her father responded to antibiotics, but Tiiu did not recover until she underwent a risky new lung operation in her late teens. Tiiu matriculated at Douglass College in 1960 where she majored in history and met her lifelong friend Linda Alfonso. Afterwards, she moved to Madison to pursue graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin. She taught European history at Carroll College, Marquette University, and then UW Whitewater where she met and married Raleigh Williams and started a family. Later, she returned to school for a masters in counseling and worked as a guidance counselor in Williams Bay and then the Palmyra Eagle school district. In 1983, she married Michael Gray-Fow with whom she shared a happy life for over forty years.

More than anything, Tiiu loved camping in the mountains and spent many summer vacations in the national parks, most notably in the Rocky Mountains. She was a passionate defender of trees and was responsible for planting and protecting many terrace trees in Whitewater. She was instrumental in forming the Whitewater Tree Commission and served as its chair for ten years. The City honored her service with a day named in her honor and a tree planting ceremony at Cravath Lakefront Park where a plaque now bears her name. She was active in local politics through the League of Women Voters and the Democratic Party of Walworth County. Democracy, she often said, is not a spectator sport. She loved to travel and returned to visit Estonia several times after it finally became independent in 1991, once with her cousin Maret Henrikson and twice with Michael. She was very serious about home maintenance and spent a lot of time fixing, painting and repairing the rambling old farmhouse that she shared with Michael and their many dogs. She loved her dogs, always and deeply: Muri the cherished dog of her youth, then Buster, Chester, Kalju, Rufus, and finally Puck and Sophie. She was a fierce spirit, a fighter, and a lover of natural beauty.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Eino Rodima and Aino (Keder) Rodima and all of her maternal first cousins including Juhan Urm. She is survived by her husband Michael Gray-Fow; daughter Susan Maaja Williams (partner Bryan James); step-daughter Emily Gray-Fow; cousin Juhan’s wife Carol Urm and their sons Erik and Matthew (Robbi) Urm; and Matthew’s children, Rebecca, Nicholas and Nathan Urm.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 on Saturday, April 20 at St Peter’s Episcopal Church in Fort Atkinson. Lunch to follow at the church. Flowers are welcome, or donations may be made to the Walworth County Humane Society. Online condolences may be made at

Share This