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Margalit “Mara” Gibbs ’19

Mara’s life was tragically cut short by a catastrophic nighttime fire in her off-campus apartment. Awakened by the fire, she managed to dial 911, but passed out from the smoke and the heat before she could finish the call. Two other people survived by jumping from the second-floor window.

The day after Mara died, hundreds of Reedies came together to celebrate her life in the student union. As the occasion drew to a close, one of Mara’s uncles rose to thank the students for sharing their stories about his niece.

“Mara was willed into this world,” he said, referring to the determination of her mother and father to parent a child. “She was created to make lives meaningful. What I heard tonight was a glorious celebration and reflection of who she was. The seeds had been planted—this community helped her flower.”

Lauren Gibbs, Mara’s mother, said her daughter hated ceremony and even avoided her own high school graduation. “She would not have wanted a ceremony to celebrate her,” Lauren said. “But we are going to because she loved Reed, she loved the friends she made here, she loved her classes and her professors, her internships with the Software Design Studio, and she loved Portland.”

Born to Lauren Gibbs and Steven Flax, she was named Margalit after Steven’s mother, Pearl. Margalit is the modern Hebrew form of Margaret, which means pearl. She grew up in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts, and attended high school at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where she won a prestigious Boston Globe Scholastic Art & Writing Award, graduating in 2015.

A creative child, Mara began composing songs at age four, and by the time she was five identified as a math girl, taking every math class offered. She danced and won awards for her photographs.

Her favorite courses at Reed included philosophy and computer science. She was accepted to the internship program at the Reed Software Design Studio, which pairs students with experienced professionals in the technology industry.

At the life celebration, friends shared memories and anecdotes of the whip-smart sophomore, relating her propensity for dispensing hugs and humor. Her father related that while she had friends in high school, Mara felt like a fish out of water until she came to Reed.

“As a student, Mara had focus,” Steven said. “She wasn’t one to take an introductory survey of anything. One teacher said, ‘She would follow a problem to the end, even if it led her down a rabbit hole.’ Another said, ‘Mara is so concentrated in her attention, sometimes she doesn’t see the forest for the bark.’ At Reed, she blossomed, had friends, and met the most intellectual challenges. She loved it here.”

Early in the morning of February 5, the apartment Mara shared with other Reedies in Southeast Portland caught fire. Two other women leapt to safety from a second-story window. Firefighters found Mara inside the flaming apartment and pulled her to the hallway to begin resuscitation, but she never regained consciousness and died two days later. She donated her organs to other people through the Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank.

At the memorial, Steven said he drew two lessons from Mara’s death. “If you’re in a building and the alarm goes off and you see fire . . . Don’t be a hero, don’t try to put out the fire, don’t call 911. Get the hell out of the building as fast as you can. Call 911 from the sidewalk. The other lesson, if I have anything to teach, is to remind you for the rest of your lives that there are people you love. Remember at every opportunity to tell them that you love them.”

From the stories Reedies shared at her memorial, it’s clear that Mara knew she was loved. The family has established a scholarship in her honor to benefit a woman studying computer science at Reed. To make a gift in her memory, please visit www.reed.edu/givingtoreed and indicate the Mara Gibbs Scholarship in the notes section.

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