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Marjorie Williams
Exquisite Mother, Wife, Friend & Journalist


Marjorie Williams, one of the most extraordinary women we've ever known -- and one of the most gifted writes of her generation --has died after an heroic battle with liver cancer.

Ben Bradlee said simply, "She had that miracle touch. She made people feel so good -- about life and the paper and everything." (The full story)

She will be most remembered as a warm, steadfast friend, and devoted mother and wife. Please post your memories below.

Other tributes: Jack Shafer, Paul Glastris, Marc Fisher, Joel Achenbach, Mickey Kaus, David Corn and Eric Alterman, Washington Post editorial

 
stevenwaldman -1/16/2005
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stevenwaldman
1/17/2005 00:26

This is a note that Amy and I sent Marjorie earlier in the month:

January 2, 2005

Dear Marjorie,

This may seem like an odd time to bring this up, but we wanted to mention something about, well...about your clips.

Of course we also treasure the personal kindness, intelligence, warmth and humor that have made you so important to so many people.

But Amy and I did want to describe something else: your writing has always been very important to us, an inspiration really. We don’t mean inspiration in a Chicken Soup for the Soul sort of way (though the scene of Dick Darman playing ping pong will always bring a tear to any eye). We mean the absolute, relentless sense of honesty that you've always brought to bear.

We remember when Steve had a drunken conversation with Paul Glastris: "If you had to choose one person in the world to write the definitive piece about you, who would it be?" (Only two inebriated magazine writers would play such an odd drinking game). The rule was: it's the only piece that would ever be written; it has to capture you, warts and all and yet get at the core essence. It's got to understand both ideas and emotions. It's the piece that will get passed on to your grandchildren and their grandchildren. You can choose any writer, American or around the world; someone you know or someone you don't know.

Who would you want to write this piece? Steve's answer, without equivocation or pause, was you, Marjorie.

Why? Deep honesty – honesty that burrows to the core, balances the different competing realities, adjudicates fairly, assesses what's important and what's not. Sympathetic but not amoral. Honesty (and versatility) that attempts to understand a person at every level – emotionally, intellectually, historically.

Without you knowing it (and yes it's sad that it requires illness to force us to say such things) you've been a personal and professional guide-star for us. We're guessing that if these qualities were imprinted on us, they're likely pretty indelible on your kids, too.

We have many other lovely, warm memories: You bringing us meals after each of our children were born; walking down the aisle, by yourself, at your wedding with Katherine Hepburn-like grace; the way Tim stares at you with a sense of adoration even Nancy Reagan couldn't match. And, in the ultimate testimony to our faith in your judgment, it was you we called when we had that first dilemma about whether to get Joe a pirate ship.

You were so supportive, thoughtful and kind when it came to our struggle to get married. We felt you were behind us all the way and that helped. It seemed appropriate, then, that it is your face that forms the backdrop for the rather lengthy video of the toasts at our wedding.

We want you to know about the lasting effect you've had on us and how dearly loved you are. We're so grateful to have you as our friend. We love you very much. Always have. Always will.

Love,
Steve & Amy


Margoandhow
1/17/2005 16:53

This is the letter I sent to Marjorie and Tim's children, when Tim suggested that he would like messages addressed to them.

Not having dealt with kids that age in many a moon, I tried, by the use of words such as "yucky," to say things about their mother that I thought would -- now or later -- bring comfort.

January 1, 2005

To Will and Alice.

I am one of those people who never met you but feels some of the sadness you are feeling. To make it stranger yet, I have actually never met your mother –but from phone calls and e-mails I feel like we are friends.

I first “met” her on the phone because I wanted to ask her something about a Vanity Fair story. I wanted to know her better after talking to her, so I started to e-mail about various things, she e-mailed back, and then I felt we were actually friends. (You can do that with e-mail.)

I certainly knew about her – even before the first phone call – because she has been, for years, recognized as a star writer; and also because I actually know your dad, who works for Slate, like I do.

I just wanted you to know that I am sad, too, and that it takes a certain kind of special and wonderful person to have someone they never met feel that way. I will tell you something good, though. And the way I know this, even though I am grown-up (even older than your parents) is that my mother died a few years ago. And the thing I know is this: you will remember her in a thousand ways for as long as you live. She will be in your heart and in your thoughts so that many things will remind you of her -- things she said to you, things she thought, things she did.

All your mom’s friends knew how much she loved you both, which is why, I am guessing, she took all the yucky medicines ... so she could have some more time with you. And as you know, it worked!

Your wonderful father will look after you, along with some great family and friends, and for all your life you will have the happiness of the time when you were Marjorie, Tim, Will, and Alice. Whatever life brings you, or takes away, you will have had the blessing of a mother who loved you with all of her heart.
Sincerely,
Margo Howard





lanec
1/17/2005 20:47

This was our letter to Tim just after learning of Marjorie's death.

Dear Tim,

We feel such a tremendous weight of grief, yet we know it is a small chip of the sorrow that lands on your shoulders now.

There's a blank gray space in the world, where there used to be a dazzling splash of color called Marjorie.

She showed us the beauty in the seen and the unseen. She was learned, smart and wise but always wondering, always curious, always interested and always interesting.

She was never naive yet never insincere.

She showed that the pen is indeed more powerful than the sword, and--when she wielded it--more powerful than power itself.

She knew how to fight the good fight, and how to lend a friend a hand.

She showed us how to cherish children; she was a serious practitioner of love.

She made a lasting impact for the good everywhere she went.

She was a hell of a lot of fun. Her smile was the grand prize of any conversation.

Every day, she taught us by example how to live this life; and at the end she taught us how to leave it.

We miss her so and we always will.

Our deepest sympathies and our everlasting love,

Cati & Chuck


stevenwaldman
1/18/2005 20:40

From Paul Glastris's piece on The Washington Monthly:

"It’s impossible to exaggerate what a fantastic person Marjorie was. She possessed in abundance qualities you don’t normally find in the same person. She was brilliant and sweet, self-assured and self-effacing, ruthlessly honest and unfailingly considerate. She had a dazzling mind, a delightfully tart tongue, and a generous heart. Spending time at her and Tim’s home, which my family and I often did, you felt both excited and at ease—with the kids playing in the toy-strewn living room and the adults talking politics around the island in the kitchen. And in those conversations, when Marjorie talked, you wanted to listen."


Tereza1
1/18/2005 22:46

Dear Will and Alice,
Though I didn't get to know your Mom as well as I wish I had, I know your Dad from when we were both little kids. From the times I was at your house, and from hearing about her from each of you, I know what an amazing mother she has been to you.
Even the title of this memorial shows you how devoted she was to you - "Mother, wife, friend, journalist". Your Mom was a Mom first and foremost.
In my letter to you I told many stories of your Dad, aunt, and uncle when they were your ages. Family was always the most important thing as we were growing up, and that same kind of love of family must be part of what your Dad saw in your Mom.

Nothing we can say will change your hurt right now. But we can remember the special stories about your Mom.
I was eight when I lost my Dad, and still think about him every day. I have my own great memories, and since his life touched so many people, their stories also help keep his memory alive for me. He inspires me every day, and I still learn new things about him, even though it was so many years ago.

You have the gift of a wonderful family and many friends around you who will keep Mom in your lives every day, and I know that you two will be the most important people in helping your Dad through this too.

With all my love,

Tereza
Danbury, CT


stevenwaldman
1/19/2005 16:13

From David Corn's tribute on his website:

I'm numb today. Our friend Marjorie Williams--a talented journalist, a generous neighbor, a lovely mother to Willie and Alice, a wonderful partner to Tim Noah--died yesterday. She had lived 47 years and three days. Three and a half years ago, Marjorie was diagnosed with liver cancer. She was given several months to live. She managed to live--and thrive--beyond expectations, which, considering Marjorie's exceptional talents and character, is not surprising.

We have been so moved by Marjorie's spirit and by Tim's strength. And we thank Tim, Willie and Alice for sharing Marjorie with us. With her insightful and elegant Washington Post columns, with her always-engaging and supportive email correspondence with me, and with her loving interactions with our girls (especially during their annual pilgrimage to see "Marjorie's Christmas tree"), she made our world a better place. It's hard to write more about her at this point. So I will put up the Post obituary that ran today. It is, you will see, full of praise, compliments, and respect. To those of you who were unfortunate and did not know Marjorie or her work, the obituary might come across as an over-the-top farewell to a well-liked colleague. But I can attest it is one of the most accurate stories I have ever seen in the newspaper. It captures not only the facts of Marjorie's life but the essence of her time here. We should all be so lucky to be remembered this way--and to deserve to be remembered in such a fashion.


stevenwaldman
1/19/2005 16:18

From JOEL ACHENBACH'S Tribute:

I see Marjorie Williams smiling. She’s laughing, she’s heard some delicious gossip. She's smart and poised and -- it's an unfashionable word, but applies -- sophisticated. She’s also gorgeous, and literally attractive, in the sense that, without treally trying to, she becomes the gravitational center of a party.

And then in the newsroom, when we're working together on a tight deadline, co-bylining some breaking Zeitgeist piece, she’s obviously the captain of the enterprise, in charge yet perfectly collegial, and when she sits at the keyboard she manages to weave all the facts and quotes and ideas and larger themes into a narrative so seamless you might make the mistake of thinking that writing is easy.

She died this weekend, and you might get a sense of how much she was respected and adored by reading the great tributes by David Von Drehle and Marc Fisher. Her battle against cancer lasted as long as a world war, but she never lost her humor or grace, nor did Tim Noah, her husband. Marjorie's final piece in the Post (which I’ll try to link to) was a classic, the writing so controlled, the message so heartbreaking. We wrap Tim and his kids and all of Marjorie’s family in our love. We say to Will and Alice: Your Mom was a beautiful lady. We’ll always see her smiling.


werners4
1/19/2005 20:12

Reading all of the tributes by extraordinary writers and close friends, I am intimidated to contribute my awkwardly stated thoughts to this tribute book. But then I remember that this is Marjorie we are talking about, and am able to relax and tell her, and Tim, Alice and Will, what I am thinking about.

I didn’t know Marjorie as a world-class journalist. I knew her as Alice’s mom. We talked to arrange playdates, swapped ideas about child raising, and laughed over our daughter’s latest hijinks. I looked forward to those conversations; they were always certain to make me laugh, and make me feel better about my latest failure in the work-mother balancing act.

Marjorie made me a better parent. First, through the wonderful ideas about parenting that we traded during phone calls and carpool encounters. Then through her incredible columns where she articulated, with a precision and eloquence that left me breathless, the amorphous feelings and frustrations that I had with being a parent first in Washington, DC—the you-are-what-you-do capital of the world. And then last, through her heroic battle with cancer.

Throughout Marjorie maintained what I found most incredible about her: an ability to be completely present. She made it clear that she didn’t want her whole life to be about her cancer, even as she joked that “having cancer was a full time job.” We still shared stories about our children, but now the conversations were often more intense as Marjorie probed for the crucial piece of information that would help her daughter get through her illness. She taught me about the preciousness of small moments, the importance of seemingly small questions that, in fact, were about the big questions.

I will think of Marjorie when I find myself straying from the moment, when I feel I am missing the bigger question, when I am struggling to balance my life, and when I spend an afternoon with Alice, wishing I could share a special moment with her mother. Mothers have lost an eloquent spokesperson, a wonderful thinker, and good friend. I will always miss Alice’s mom--Marjorie.


margaretengel
1/20/2005 12:13

Dear Tim, Alice and Will,
I am so sorry for your loss. As someone who was privileged to share a newsroom with Marjorie, I'll never forget how fun she made work. She was never self-important, frazzled or cynical, which are qualities you see in abundance in high-pressure places. She was a lovely friend to everyone who crossed her path. She'll be missed, mightily.
Peggy Engel

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