Local historians, environmentalists remember Marion Softky | January 4, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Cover Story - January 4, 2012

Local historians, environmentalists remember Marion Softky

by Dave Boyce

Marion Softky, a newspaper reporter for decades, had a way with her own words. But she also had a way, in interviews, of getting her subjects to choose words that revealed themselves as more interesting people than they might have appeared had someone else been interviewing them, her friends and associates said.

Ms. Softky created a "remarkable legacy" for our area from all the interviews she did, "and she did it so well," Portola Valley historian Nancy Lund said. "She had a way of bringing out the personality. She wrote fascinating articles."

Ms. Lund said she accompanied Ms. Softky several times on interviews. "(After) listening to her do this a few times, I probably learned a lot about doing interviews myself," said Ms. Lund, who has co-authored several books on the history of Peninsula communities.

Over 40 years, Ms. Softky witnessed and participated in raising environmental awareness on the Peninsula, and had plans to write an account of those years, but her illness had sapped her energy, Ms. Lund said.

"Virginia (Bacon) and I feel extremely lucky that we did (a video) interview with her," Ms. Lund said. "We have that wonderful record of her talking. She ended up seeing the DVD at the very end of her life."

Go to tinyurl.com/Softky to see the 121-minute video.

"She did a wonderful job all those years that she worked for the good of Portola Valley," said Jean Lane, a resident since the town's founding in 1964.

"From the beginning, I respected all her abilities and the way she shared them with others, in the Almanac especially, throughout her lifetime," Ms. Lane said. "We'll miss her. She was really very much a part of Portola Valley from the beginning."

Regional environmental activist Lennie Roberts said: "I think Marion's reporting on both environmental issues and her interest in interesting people on the Peninsula has been a hallmark of the Almanac.

"She could capture the importance of the issue, along with a lot of the details. (Her articles) were always interesting to read. It's a talent that we don't have a lot of anymore.

"I don't think (her stories) ever came out as biased. She did a very good job at having well-rounded stories."

"Marion is a person who will never be replaced," said Onnolee Trapp, an environmental leader and resident, like Ms. Softky, of The Sequoias retirement community. "Her contributions were huge."

Her news stories "translated for ordinary people" the relevance and importance of the person being interviewed, Ms. Trapp said. "Readers saw the person as a person and not just a big name. She contributed a lot that way by just bringing those (insights) into our homes.

"She was good at keeping things in front of people. That was very important."

George Mader, a planning consultant to Portola Valley and its former town planner, said he spoke many times before the San Mateo County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. There to cover what happened was Ms. Softky, he said.

"Most people are not at meetings," Mr. Mader said. "They don't know what's going on unless it's reported well. We lost a very valuable member of the community."

Marion "was extremely accurate. She didn't interpret. She told it as it was," Mr. Mader said. "It was a great pleasure knowing her and working with her in that capacity."

"What a wonderful woman she was," said Nita Spangler, a former Almanac contributor and a personal friend of Ms. Softky. "I'm really going to miss her.

"She was a very bright woman and very modest. She had a great sense of humor. She's the kind of person you want to have for a friend for the rest of your life."

Ms. Softky was "a very charming individual," Ms. Spangler said. "She definitely is on my sorry-to-see-her-go list."