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Deirdre Dexter Malarkey ’57

Born into a New York society family, Didi grew up in Croton-on-Hudson, the youngest of five children raised in a culture of art, music, dance, and commerce. A playful child, she was quick to laugh and loved exploring, whether around the next bend in the Catskills woods or on the streets of Manhattan, where her father moved after her parents divorced. When Didi was seven, her mother remarried and moved her two daughters, the family pets, and governess to Los Alamos, New Mexico, motoring across the country in the family Packard.

In the 8th grade, following the family tradition, Didi was sent off to a private boarding school in Putney, Vermont. She started at Reed when she was 16. 

Taking time off to teach skiing in Austria, she was courted by an amorous count who proposed to her. She declined the proposal and then met Stoddard Malarkey ’55 on a ski trip to Mount Hood. His first proposal was along the lines, “We ought to get married,” and Didi dove into the adjacent swimming pool and swam away. When he finally said, “Will you marry me?” she agreed, wedding him in 1955 and raising three sons, primarily in Eugene, where Stoddard taught at the University of Oregon. The family lived in Eugene and Tumalo, Oregon. Stoddard died in 1990.

Didi was incredibly proud of her family’s connection to Reed. Two children, a cousin, a nephew, sister-in-law, and her in-laws all attended. She got her BA in literature, writing her thesis about Jane Austen with Prof. Donald MacRae [English 1944–73]. At the University of Oregon she earned an MLS and both a master’s and a doctorate in geography.

Professionally Didi worked as a high school teacher, librarian, archivist, geography teacher, paralegal, and as a commissioner for both the Oregon State Water Commission and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. After her husband died, she joined the Peace Corps in 1992, building and outfitting libraries in Grenada.

In 2005, she moved from Eugene to Port Angeles, Washington, to be nearer to family and her two grandchildren, Claire and Lucy. She also formed a close friendship with Mia Cruz, the daughter of her son Gordon’s former wife, Pringl. These three girls survive Didi, in addition to her sons Gordon ’84, Peter ’86, and John, their wives, Lynn and Kerry; and her sister Anne.

Had Alzheimer’s not overtaken her last seven to eight years, Didi certainly would have continued in her diverse interests. She still skied at age 73. In fact, she was generally healthy, walking and with few ailments other than dementia. Even in the last few years her awareness was intact—she would point out birds in bushes or trees that weren’t easy to spot. Her final days were marked with peacefulness, curious eyes, and a smile. She favored a wheelchair and talked less than she had before, but on occasion still possessed a verbal feistiness and that undeniable presence that never left her.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2016

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