By Andrea Gemmet
Lots of familiar faces turned out Sunday at the Portola Valley Town Center to fete veteran reporter Marion Softky at a celebration marking her 40th year of writing for The Almanac. Colleagues, local dignitaries, council members, environmental leaders and family members mingled and shared stories about Marion's long career chronicling the Midpeninsula and its people.
"A journalist's dream is to have an impact on the community they cover. Everyone here knows from personal experience the kind of impact that Marion has had over the years," said Bill Johnson, publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly and CEO of Embarcadero Publishing Co., which owns The Almanac.
With her background in physics, Marion has excelled at covering complex issues, from particle physics to transportation plans, and turning them into stories people could understand and even enjoy, said Richard Hine, The Almanac's managing editor. She took the long-term view on important issues such as conservation and the environment, he said.
Philanthropist Bill Lane, whom Marion often refers to as "the town father of Portola Valley," praised the thoroughness and complexity of Marion's stories, saying that he still sends out copies of her article on wildfire danger. Portola Valley wouldn't be what it is today without Marion and The Almanac, he said.
Mort Levine, who owned The Almanac from 1980 to 1993, called Marion "a priceless asset to the paper."
"The folks at The Almanac brought an intellectual rigor and unceasing curiosity (to the job), and Marion really exemplified those characteristics," he said. Marion's son, Bill Softky, said that he recognized a fair number of faces in the crowd from his mother's many cover stories. One local VIP profiled by Marion didn't attend - Koko, the gorilla who communicates in sign language to her trainer Penny Patterson.
"It's been a blast," Marion told the gathering. "Writing is hard, some of the meetings were long, (but) without The Almanac, I never would have been hugged by Koko."
She was presented with flowers from San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon, a large print by local photographer Robert Buelteman from her Almanac colleagues, and a framed copy of a resolution of the county Board of Supervisors honoring her work. Surveying the expanse of wrapping paper enveloping one of her gifts, Marion quipped, "Can we recycle that?"