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Marilyn Margaret McDonald
May 24, 1935-Jan. 20, 2021
Palo Alto, California

Marilyn Miller McDonald died peacefully on Wednesday, January 20th, 2021. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, she grew up in San Francisco and South Pasadena, settling in Palo Alto after meeting her husband, Bob, at Stanford University. In the words of those who knew her, Marilyn was “a dynamo,” “a doer,” and “a FORCE!”

In midlife, Marilyn launched her career with gusto. As soon as her four children were in school, she determinedly furthered her education, ultimately adding a teaching certificate and a Master of Library Science from San Jose State and an MBA from Golden Gate University to her B.A. and M.A. degrees in economics from Stanford. Over the course of her career, she was an office manager at the Stanford Alumni Association, a research librarian at SRI, and co-head librarian at Gunn High School. At Foothill College, she started as college librarian before being promoted to dean of learning resources. In this role, Marilyn took the library from a card catalogue to a fully digitized system. In preparation for her next role as the Foothill-De Anza Community College District archivist, she trained with the Western Archives Institute and became an active member of the Society of California Archivists. After her retirement, she dedicated her time to organizations such as the Woman’s Club of Palo Alto and Channing House. Running the store at Channing House brought Marilyn particular joy.

Marilyn’s drive extended to her family life. She regularly rounded up friends and family for skiing and camping trips, theater outings, birthday parties, and backyard barbecues. Her events were famous for their attention to detail and often centered around high-spirited games, such as Trivial Pursuit, charades, or the infamous white elephant gift exchange.

Naturally athletic, Marilyn skied, danced, and played a variety of racket sports. She coached her daughters’ AYSO soccer teams—the Orange Crushers, the Orange Jammers, and the Yellow Jackets—with zeal for several years. In her later decades, she and Bob became avid sports fans, rooting on favorite tennis players and, of course, their beloved Giants and 49ers.

Marilyn was an expert maker and improver all her life. She steamed persimmon puddings, caned wooden chairs, crafted delicate ornaments, whipped up formal prom dresses, sketched Fallen Leaf Lake landscapes, and hand stitched many fine quilts. She had an excellent thrifter’s eye and took great pride in valuing and restoring her finds. She knew just how to grind, scrape, glue, mend, restring, oil, and buff treasures back to their original glory. The secret to Marilyn’s mastery of many skills was this: she did her research, fearlessly asked questions, and could call on, when necessary, her ready assistant, Bob. Her children and grandchildren gratefully continue her spirit every time they lift a needle, ice a cookie, tend a plant, scout a garage sale, or restore a wood finish.

Her creations and finds filled a comfortable home. Friends, her children’s friends, extended family, and many cherished rescue dogs could always find a welcome on Fife Avenue. She was not content, though, to always stay at home, and her travels with Bob took her around the world. She had boundless curiosity about other cultures and took a special interest in textile arts. Marilyn relished the universal game of haggling and connecting with people in striking a bargain—and proudly displayed hard-won treasures when home again. Perhaps most of all, though, she loved spending time at Fallen Leaf Lake with Bob and her dogs—boating, hiking, fishing, and relaxing.

Marilyn pushed her children to be as bold in embracing life’s opportunities as she was and took great pride in their accomplishments.

In addition to her husband, Marilyn is survived by her daughters, Regan, Page, and Karin, and their spouses; her son, Evan, and his wife Christy (to whom Marilyn was very close); and six grandchildren.

Tags: teacher/educator

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