Jill Felix Colton, real estate executive

Jill Felix Colton
Jill Felix Colton
Posted: September 21, 2013

Jill Felix Colton, 69, of Philadelphia and Longboat Key, Fla., a real estate company executive with a prominent public profile, died Monday, Sept. 16, at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida.

The cause of death was a rare form of endometrial cancer, said her stepson Andrew Colton.

Mrs. Colton's most recent role as chief executive of the University City Science Center kept her in the public eye, as did her senior position with Liberty Property Trust of Malvern, the real estate firm founded by Willard G. Rouse III.

She handled the quirks of public life adeptly. In 1985, for example, Jill Felix was marketing director for Rouse's Great Valley Corporate Center when President Ronald Reagan was due in town to speak. All the details were tamed except the weather.

As Reagan stepped to the podium, the skies opened, soaking the guests' shoes. Within days, she sent out Great Valley Corporate Center shoe-shine kits to all the visiting dignitaries.

"It was a typical Jill Felix move," mixing marketing savvy with friendliness, her stepson said.

Mrs. Colton placed a premium on interactions with others.

"She often said she collected friends, not things," her stepson recalled. The friends returned her warmth.

When Mrs. Colton became gravely ill in a Florida hospice near her second home three weeks ago, they visited, phoned, and spent "FaceTime" with her on their smartphones.

Born in Philadelphia, she graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1962 and earned bachelor's degrees in psychology and sociology from the University of Wisconsin, and a master's degree in social work from Bryn Mawr College.

Her first job was at the former Philadelphia General Hospital as a social worker for unmarried young women who had become pregnant.

During the time she took off to have two sons, she needed a challenge, so she tried selling homes in Chester County. The gambit was so successful, her family said in a statement, that a big commercial real estate company approached her out of the blue to join its ranks.

"But knowing nothing about commercial real estate, Jill cold-called Philadelphia developer Bill Rouse. He agreed to meet with her for breakfast and ended up hiring her on the spot for a senior marketing position," her family said.

Her professional relationship with Rouse spanned years and continents. Not only did she obtain tenants for the Great Valley Corporate Center, but she also prevailed on him to expand into Europe. She developed Kings Hill in Kent County, England, an immense mixed-use project on a former airfield.

In 1993, she resigned to care for Miles Felix, her ailing husband. He died in 2003. By 1997 she had resurfaced as chief executive of the University City Science Center, a technology/business incubator owned by 31 universities and assorted nonprofits.

She put the center on firm financial footing before retiring in 2004. She wanted to spend time with Neal Colton, a lawyer and former Lower Merion classmate who also had lost a spouse.

The two married and moved from the suburbs to a condo overlooking Washington Square Park.

Her husband said Mrs. Colton made him "a different, better" person. "Even though we only had nine years of marriage, and we had to abandon our plans for retirement, I am so grateful for all the fun and happiness we shared."

Mrs. Colton was a trustee or director of the University of the Arts, Support Center for Child Advocates, Walnut Street Theater, American Israeli Chamber of Commerce, International House, Greater Philadelphia First Foundation, West Philadelphia Partnership, and the Valley Forge Historical Society.

Surviving, besides her husband and stepson, are sons Eric and Greg Felix; another stepson, Bill Colton; eight grandchildren; and a brother.

A memorial service will be held at noon Friday, Sept. 20, at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 S. Broad St. Interment is private.

The Jill Felix Colton Memorial Scholarship has been created in her honor. Donations may be sent to the University of the Arts, Office of Advancement, 320 S. Broad St., Philadelphia 19102.

Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8102 or book@phillynews.com.

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