It's always a shock to pick up the evening newspaper, open the front page and discover that someone you know died.
I didn't know Marilyn Mantay well, but she was the theatre critic when I was hired by the Davis Enterprise. We split the shows for a couple of years. She hated musical theatre and was happy to have me take over that task; I wasn't too comfortable doing straight plays or dance recitals, so she did that. It was a partnership which worked quite well.
I can't remember if it was before or after her daughter died that she retired for good and I took over as the only Enterprise critic. But with her daughter Michele's death, she joined that damn club that nobody wants to join and I felt we had a special bond that neither of us wanted.
We kept in touch, from time to time, via e-mail. But she wasn't a real Internet person so we didn't exchange much mail. We did meet for lunch a few times and she would quiz me about how I was enjoying doing her old job.
She started a group for writers a couple of years ago. I attended a few of the meetings, but it seemed to be more a group of would-be fiction writers and I was not interested in writing fiction, so I soon stopped going.
She called me a couple of months ago, just to chat. I wasn't home at the time and I returned her call. We chatted about what she was doing, what I was doing, and all that "catching up stuff." We agreed we needed to get together for lunch again some day.
Then this evening there was a notice about her death.
When someone you know casually dies and you read their obituary, you learn so much about them that you never knew. I didn't know, for example, that she was nearly as old as my mother. She seemed so much younger.
I didn't know that she had been a WAC in World War II and on her return had become a psychologist, working in VA hospitals. I didn't realize that she taught psychology at Oregon State before moving to Davis. I didn't know she was an accomplished pianist. I didn't realize how well traveled she was, or that her travel experiences allowed her to become a docent in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at San Francisco's deYoung museum.
I only knew her as a passionate writer, a lover of classical music (who successfully convinced our editor to let her review operas in San Francisco--something he would never let me do, even if I enjoyed going to opera!), and a nice woman who always wore an air of resigned sadness about her.