In those early days, the Country Almanac was an "all girl band," a newspaper founded and run by women. Most of us had similar backgrounds. We were well-educated married women with children, proud to be writing about the communities we lived in.
In the 1970s, the Almanac was located in a cramped little building in Woodside, where locals often wandered in and engaged reporters in conversation. Copy was due at 1 p.m. Thursday for the weekly publication deadline.
Marion, who usually worked at home, would rush in at the last minute before deadline, her arms filled with papers. She was always excited over her latest story, considering it "the most important."
After deadline we would troop out for lunch, maybe a sandwich on the deck of the Book and Bean, or a hamburger down the street at the Little Store.
Through the years we got to know each other's families, including Marion's mother, who in her 80s would take long walks around Woodside when visiting from Philadelphia. We brought broken lamps and such for young Ed Softky to repair at his "fix-it shop." We heard about Ed's and Bill's involvement with the Menlo-Atherton Jazz Band.
In the 1980s, the Country Almanac (as it was known then) moved to Menlo Park under its new owners, Mort and Elaine Levine. Marion often rode her bicycle from her home on Encinal Avenue to our offices on Oak Grove Avenue. The "lunch bunch" still got together after deadline. La Luna restaurant, Siam Garden, and Yuen Yung were favorites.
As the years passed, we attended our children's weddings, mourned the death of a parent, a divorce, or the loss of a spouse. Marion's husband, Sheldon, died 18 years ago, shortly after the paper became part of Embarcadero Publishing, and two years before it moved its offices to the Alameda de las Pulgas in Menlo Park.
Marion was the first reporter at the Almanac to use a computer at home, but she also came into the office, where her desk featured a photo of her son, Bill, in the Peace Corp in Cameroon, and a sign saying "Cassandra was right." At one time, her car sported a personal license plate that again referenced Cassandra. (In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a prophet whose predictions of doom were true but never believed.)
Marion Softky was an original. Born and bred in the East, a graduate of Bryn Mawr, she became a true Californian, loving the outdoors and its natural beauty. She was serious about important issues, but had a lighter side, such as her fascination with Koko the gorilla she loved writing about.
Despite her final illness, Marion kept up her active lifestyle. This summer she made her annual trek to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and celebrated her birthday in September at the beach. Just two weeks before her death, she drove to Berkeley to spend the weekend with a friend. They went out to dinner and attended an East Bay Open Space District dedication.
On Dec. 13, eight of us Almanac "old-timers" had a Christmas luncheon. Marion came, looking surprisingly well, despite the fact she could only take chicken broth and tea.
In her final illness, she showed the strength of character that made her so special. I feel honored to have had her as a friend.