In Loving Memory of my Mother, Marilyn J. Harrison

You may have noticed that I’ve recently cancelled a few events.

Earlier this month, my mother entered hospice care and I returned home to help navigate her end of life care.

In the early hours of the morning on July 26th, Mom left us after a long journey with Parkinson’s. She had a good last week with visits from friends and family.

The day before, July 25th, was Mom and Dad’s 59th wedding anniversary. We think she was determined to celebrate that day with Dad one last time.

They had always wanted to go to Hawaii, so we gave them a “Hawaii trip” with leis and Aloha shirts shipped from Hawaii. When we told her the plan, she smiled.

Later in the day, I saw her feeling the lei and smiling.

At the end of the day, Dad told her, “I’m glad you took that dare to marry me.”

What dare?

In 1964, Mom was dating two fellows and one of them asked her to marry him. Old money, private plane, nice guy. And she realized, when he proposed that she wanted to be with my dad.

So she turned him down.

It was a leap year. Her friends at the bank where she worked pointed out that it was Sadie Hawkins day and dared her to ask dad to marry her.

She did. He said “yes” and that set the pattern for their marriage.

Before she retired, she was an arts administrator, doing fundraising and creating grants for artists. She believed in the power of the arts. She was passionate about making them accessible and inclusive to everyone. Her advocacy shaped so much of my worldview and she’s had a secret influence on the world of SFF.

Back in 2009, I asked if I could host the Codex Writer’s Retreat at their house. It’s the old family farm, built by my grandparents for entertaining. Mom was always opening the house to artists and musicians and puppeteers from all over the world. So it seemed the most natural thing to invite thirty writers there for a week.

After that, we hosted the first two Writing Excuses retreats there. I honestly don’t think Writing Excuses would be running workshops today if Mom hadn’t provided a safe place to begin them. She coached me through the logistics from her decades of experience running conferences. When Writing the Other wanted to do a proof-of-concept retreat, Mom opened the house so they could try their ideas in a low-risk environment.

I asked her once about schmoozing, which she had to do as part of fundraising and she said, “The secret is that the other person is more interesting than you are. You live with yourself. The other person is more interesting. “

That’s who my mom was. You want to make art? You want to make the world a more beautiful place? She would make room for you. You were interesting.

I love her very much and she remains my best role model.

You can read her formal obituary here.

If you’re able, the best support you can provide is in the form of a donation in the name of Marilyn J. Harrison to the Chattanooga arts council, Arts Build, in her memory.

She worked there for over a decade as vice-president, and we’d like for her to be able to continue to do the arts advocacy that meant so much to her.

Thank you for your ongoing support. It truly means the world to me. 

Mary Robinette Kowal

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6 thoughts on “In Loving Memory of my Mother, Marilyn J. Harrison”

  1. Your mother sounds like she was not only interesting but incredibly gracious and kind as well. She must have been so proud of how you followed in those footsteps. My condolences to you and your family.

  2. I’m so glad you could be there at home with her. I just went through hospice at home with my dad a few months ago and I’m still kind of marveling at the whole experience. There’s sadness and loss but there’s also a wholeness to knowing what a life well lived he had, and knowing that his long illness was over. I hope some measure of the peace I’m now able to feel alights on your doorstep as well.

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