Updated: Jul 26
November 12, 1928 – October 13, 2020
Marilyn Louise Fox Rutherford was born in Emlenton, Pennsylvania. Her father, Clarence Jennings Fox, was a certified public accountant and the nephew of H. J. Crawford, a pioneer in the oil industry and the president of three local banks. Her great grandfather, Josiah B. Fox, was a Lutheran minister who founded the local Lutheran Church and established the first secondary school in the area. Marilyn’s mother, Mabel Viola Lynn, was the daughter of Daniel Marqua Lynn, a local carpenter and farmer. Marilyn grew up in a big house on a steep hill, three blocks from Emlenton’s downtown with its one traffic light. Marilyn had three siblings: John (Jack) Lynn Fox, her older brother, George Edwin Fox, her younger brother, and Nancy Jane Fox, her younger sister. Her childhood companions included Pete, a rambunctious Irish Setter, and Fluffy, her pet chicken, who followed her around like a dog. Marilyn was an excellent student, and she graduated from Emlenton High near the top of her class of six. She was also a talented drum majorette. She went on to win the Pennsylvania State Championship in baton twirling.
Marilyn began her bachelor’s degree at Grove City College, where she joined Sigma Delta Phi, although she also took summer classes at Temple University and the University of California, Los Angeles. During her junior year, she transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where she studied psychology under Harry Harlow, who was famous for his research using baby rhesus monkeys to study the effects of maternal bonding. At the University of Wisconsin, she joined Kappa Kappa Gamma, where her sorority sisters included the movie star, Gena Rowlands. Another sorority sister convinced her to spend a summer in New York City, where Marilyn worked as an elevator operator before taking a job as a jingle judge for an (advertising) firm running a contest. Back in Madison, Marilyn won a spot on the water ballet team and was voted “the most athletic coed not majoring in P.E.”
After graduating, Marilyn entered graduate school at Iowa State University. After earning a master’s degree in industrial psychology, she took a job in Pittsburgh at U.S. Steel. In November 1951, she met her future husband, Donald Eugene Rutherford, on a blind date set up by mutual friends. Don, who majored in physics at Cornell and had a master’s degree in industrial engineering, was in an executive training program at Heinz Ketchup. He was also an excellent dancer.
Marilyn and Don were married in February 1952 and had their first child the following December. Three more children followed – a boy and two girls – and Marilyn applied her considerable organizational skills to running a family. She advocated hanging pictures two feet off the floor so that even the smallest child could see them. She instituted a household government, in which the children each had one vote and the adults each had two. She expanded the family to include pets, always selecting the neediest animals on offer: an epileptic dog, a one-eyed cat, and, later, a neurotic Border Collie, whom Marilyn hired a dog psychiatrist to treat. Marilyn continued her love affair with poetry, which began when she was a girl reciting poetry with her father. Every Christmas, she wrote comic verses to go with each of the presents she gave her family.
Eventually, Marilyn needed a broader canvas for her brush. As soon as her children were all in school, Marilyn returned to work. Her first job was at Underwriters Laboratory, a half an hour drive from the family home. “Don’t learn to type, or they’ll make you a secretary,” she told her daughters, passing on the wise advice she’d received from her father. “If you can’t type, they’ll give you a secretary.” Before the advent of personal computers, this strategy served Marilyn well. Marilyn’s next job was at the National College of Education, where she provided career counseling for students from the South Side of Chicago.
When Don was transferred and the family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, she led training programs in human services for the State of Wisconsin. After that, she took a job in human resources at Ohio Medical Products and quickly rose through the ranks. Marilyn was the only woman in her cohort in the executive MBA program she attended at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Marilyn wasn’t particularly good at statistics, but she made sure she received the highest score.
Marilyn and Don retired in the same year and started a consulting firm, FAR Associates, working as a team on projects related to organizational development. They also joined the Executive Volunteer Corps, A USAID sponsored voluntary association that matched up retired executives with companies overseas. For their first assignment, Marilyn and Don spent three months in Poland helping the officials in charge of the national bakery equipment corporation learn to compete in a capitalist economy. Other assignments took the couple to the Philippines, Armenia, and Russia. Wherever she went, Marilyn was a big hit. Friends and acquaintances from overseas made frequent appearances at the couple’s lakefront house in rural Wisconsin.
Don’s health slowly declined, which limited the couple’s travels. After spending a few months in Seattle, they returned to Madison. Following Don’s death in 2012, Marilyn moved to Ocean City, New Jersey, where she used to summer with family and where her sister still lived. Then she spent several months in Santa Cruz, California, home to her younger daughter, before returning east.
Marilyn spent the final four years of her life in Providence, Rhode Island, not far from her older daughter. At Wingate East Side, she took a course with Rick Benjamin, a former poet laureate of Rhode Island, which helped her rekindle her love of verse. She completed a collection of poems, self-published by her daughter and her daughter’s partner, which captured moments in Marilyn’s rich and eventful life and bore witness to her considerable powers of imagination. Whether as a housewife, an executive, or the resident of a memory care unit, Marilyn took the realities the world gave her and made them marvelous.
Marilyn died at Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island on October 13, 2020. She is survived by her younger brother, George Edwin Fox of Storrs, Connecticut, her children, James Hollis Rutherford III of Seattle, Washington, Thomas Fox Rutherford of Madison, Wisconsin, Suzannah Rutherford of Providence, Rhode Island, and Danilyn Fox Rutherford of Santa Cruz, California and New York, New York, and her grandchildren, Saraswati Rutherford, Georgina Rutherford, Natalie Rutherford, Veronica Rutherford, Ralph Rutherford Best, and Melitta Alta Rutherford Best.
She will be buried in Emlenton next to her husband, Donald Eugene Rutherford.
There will be a graveside service for family and friends at 2 pm on July 30, 2021 at the Crawford Memorial Cemetery.