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Mark Lee Woodbury ’50

September 13, 2018, in Oakland, California, on his 93rd birthday.

Mark was born in Schenectady, New York, and grew up in Hingham, Massachusetts. Even as a boy, Mark had a love of wild places. He was smitten by the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine, and voyaged on the Saint Lawrence Seaway and to the Caribbean islands with his parents.

After serving in the navy during World War II, he attended Reed, where he roomed with beat poets Gary Snyder ’51 and Philip Whalen ’51. He climbed and skied in the Grand Tetons with Martin Louis Murie ’50.

Years later, Mark remembered that he was very uncertain of both himself and his future during his Reed years. He worked for Henry Wallace, the 1948 presidential candidate for the revived Progressive Party, and enjoyed singing in the dining hall on Saturday nights. He remembered one Saturday night when a group of Reedies drinking beer on Shakespeare Island were approached by a cop who asked, “Are there any minors in the crowd?”

“We were all playing Botticelli,” Mark recalled, “an elaborate game where you got to show off your Reed College erudition. Without a moment’s hesitation Emmy Hammond ’51 piped up, ‘I’m a minor poet of the 19th century.’”

He also remembered Prof. Ed Garlan [philosophy 1946–73] explaining that philosophy was “a seamless web,” and that Prof. Bill Alderson [English 1943–64] would remove a match from a book of matches and continue to gesture and lecture for 15 minutes before lighting his cigarette.

After moving to Berkeley in the ’50s, he worked as a laborer and a salesman. He explored the many hiking trails of the Bay Area with the Sierra Club, sang in a folk group, and formed lifelong friendships strengthened by a shared commitment to civil rights and environmentalism. Mark met the like-minded Marda Liggett at Unitarian Singles, and they married in 1956. In 1962, he completed his bachelor’s degree in English at UC Berkeley, and then taught English at De Anza and El Sobrante high schools. In later years, he branched out to teach a popular comedy class and a class called Western Days and Ways, enriched by his sabbatical trip rafting the Colorado River.

Though they divorced in 1966, Mark and Marda continued to be collegial friends. Mark was a devoted father, leading his children, Brian and Heather, on extraordinary backpacking and camping journeys to the Olympic Mountains, Yosemite, and Alaska. In addition to being an avid outdoorsman who led Sierra Club hikes, he was active in local environmental efforts, including the cleanup of Lake Merritt and protecting the Bay. An eclectic songster, he sang in the Contra Costa Chorale, cofounded the Eclectic Songsters, and sang in the choir at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. Mark loved words, justice, and humor and led a current affairs discussion group into his late 80s.

Mark is survived by his companion for the past 25 years, Dolores Gruenewald; his son, Brian; his daughter, Heather Woodbury; and his stepson, Mark Evans.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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