That is when I met Marion Softky, then the Almanac's longtime reporter of Portola Valley news, along with county and environmental issues. All these "beats" were important to the Almanac's readers, who particularly cared a lot about making sure development did not overrun the gorgeous foothills in Portola Valley as well as the entire Peninsula region.
For an editorial writer, Marion was a fountain of information and wisdom. In the days before Google, if I had questions about an issue or organization, I could turn to Marion, who often had the answers I needed. Often she could recall when an issue went public or an organization was formed. She also could articulate a wide range of views for me to consider.
Her talent for explaining complicated environmental issues was well known in the Almanac newsroom, as were her meticulous files on a wide range of topics that she had covered over the years.
Like many reporters at the Almanac, Marion worked part time, and not much of that time was spent in the office. She was out in the community, attending meetings, conferences and get-togethers, where she had one-on-one contact with the newsmakers. She wrote her stories at home and sent them to us by email.
The editors loved handling Marion's copy because it needed very little work. And if the editorial that week was on a subject she wrote about, so much the better. When I needed a fact-check of an editorial about something she covered, Marion was always there to say it needed more work or was ready to go.
When we first met, Marion was in her 60s, but she was as active, or more active, than many youngsters. She would ride a bike to the Almanac offices and frequently walked the Stanford Dish and other local trails with her friends. Vacations often included places where she could get out and hike or walk. Even after she became ill, Marion refused to relax. Shortly before her death, she drove to Berkeley to visit a longtime friend without incident.
Early in Marion's career, the Almanac saw its role as simply a purveyor of information to the community, especially about schools and local government. Editorial comment was rare in those days, but the paper was viewed as a godsend by residents who lived in Portola Valley, Woodside, and West Menlo Park, areas that the dominant Palo Alto Times did not cover.
Marion and her colleagues Marjorie Mader and Jane Knoerle, were mothers first but put much of their souls into the reports they wrote about local affairs. Marion and Marjorie retired a few years ago, but Jane is still with us and writes several stories a week.
After their retirement, Marion and Marjorie continued to contribute occasional articles to the Almanac, and Marion was in the midst of a large local history of environmental and land-use issues in San Mateo County when she passed away Dec. 25.
(Visit tinyurl.com/Softky to see a video interview of Marion on this topic.)
We have missed her since she retired, but we are grateful that we were able to share her genius with thousands of Almanac readers through the years.