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Marylu Mattson

Marylu Mattson
Marylu Mattson

Marylu Mattson, one of the first professors to teach in the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University, passed away on December 30, 2012. Admired by colleagues and students alike for her combination of rigor and creativity in teaching, she was also a dedicated researcher in the humanities and sciences.

A lifetime love of California history led her to explore many corners of the state and culminated in a comprehensive historical narrative: Shaman's Dream: The Modoc War came out in print a few weeks before her death. She also co-authored an acclaimed textbook on writing, Help Yourself: A Guide to Writing and Rewriting, which went through several editions and was used by teachers throughout the country.

Marylu Catherine Mattson was born on September 12, 1933, in Los Angeles, California, daughter of Fred and Lucille Mattson and younger sister to Fred Junior. She attended St. Agnes grammar school in the central area of Los Angeles, then following the war the family moved to San Fernando where her father had a grove of ornamental eucalyptus that also included resident geese, goat, cow, dogs, and her cherished horse.

Childhood friends remember her playing the ukelele with the same zest that she prepared for debates, at which she shone. Lu attributed her intellectual awakening to an elderly woman in the neighborhood who shared with her a rich and varied library and collection of classical music, the origin of her lifelong love of literature and opera.

She graduated in 1951 from the high school at Mission San Fernando, and that fall entered Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles. Her classmates remember her wit and passion, and "creativity in subverting draconian dormitory regulations." In 1955 she graduated with B.S. in microbiology and chemistry; the avant-garde yearbook she produced that year anticipated lifelong experiments in the arts.

After a year spent touring Europe, she returned to Mount St. Mary's and completed requirements for the B.A. in English, then went on to UCLA, earning an M.A. in English in 1964. A summer spent in art classes in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, initiated a lifelong avocation in visual arts, especially sculpture and printmaking.

In 1965 Lu entered the Ph.D. program at the University of Southern California. From graduation through her years of postgraduate study in the humanities she continued scientific work, primarily in the UCLA Hematology Research Laboratory.

Co-workers note that she mastered the arcane language of enzyme biochemistry and developed into a highly sophisticated experimentalist, making a valued contribution to a seminal study in pyruvate kinase deficiency.

In 1967-68 she returned to Europe, first participating in an archeological excavation, then traveling via an Italian scooter through England and the continent, and eventually plunging into the intensive research in London libraries, archives and public records offices that culminated in her frequently-cited Ph.D. dissertation, "Censorship and the Victorian Drama" (1969), still one of the most comprehensive studies of the subject.

From 1968-1970 she was a lecturer in English at California State University Los Angeles, where she initiated an innovative student-to-student tutoring program. In 1970 Marylu Mattson joined the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University as one of the original faculty members hired to create the new School's interdisciplinary curriculum.

She was valued as colleague and administrator, at different times serving in the Academic Senate and the Vice President's Council, as Campus Coordinator of Computer Assisted Instruction, as elected Chair of the Division of Cluster Schools, and as Provost of the Hutchins School.

Students and peers alike recognized her excellence in teaching: besides teaching expository and creative writing she helped design team-taught undergraduate courses as well as upper division seminars in her areas of special interest including "Censorship in the Arts," "Masterpieces of the Humanities" and "The Irrational in the Western Tradition."

A skilled seminar leader, Professor Mattson modeled intellectual curiosity and openness to new ideas with strong critical sensibility and an absolute commitment to high standards.

A former student spoke for many in saying she was "blessed to be among the fortunate lives she touched and enriched," and a colleague commented on Lu as "a wonderful colleague, and a person of great depth and kindness."

Retirement in 1992 brought more opportunities for research, travel and exploration in the arts. In 1998 she relocated to a vacation cabin in South Lake Tahoe, and in 2001 moved to Santa Fe and then to Glorieta, New Mexico; the southwest sojourn included many trips to San Miguel where she continued study in graphic arts and was welcomed into an intellectual expatriate community.

In 2009 she returned to her beloved Russian River valley and resumed research on the Modoc War. Shaman's Dream: The Modoc War began in the 1970s as a film project and eventually engaged her in far-flung and obscure archives and libraries throughout the west and in Washington, D.C.

Framed as "creative non-fiction," it is the most comprehensive and well-documented study available of the last "Indian war." She also continued work in the arts, proudly showing friends a new press she was using to produce graphic designs, and she integrated professional and artistic interests by promoting a collaboration between the Mendocino Art Center and the Sonoma State art department.

Those who knew her--friends, colleagues, students from many places and diverse backgrounds--share admiration for her intellectual integrity, her personal loyalty, and above all her generosity and courage and her great joy in life. Faced with risky and complicated surgery for cancer, her question was, "Which procedure will leave me still able to ski?"

After suffering a massive stroke, she fought to regain her verbal skills by writing a novel. She loved to gamble, at the blackjack table and at the track; when she won a scratch-off prize she used the money to treat friends to a day at Santa Anita-- where she won the daily double; when she lost, she threw back her head and laughed at the unpredictability of everything.

She plunged wholeheartedly into all her projects, she was constant in support of her friends and colleagues and their endeavors, and from their first appearance in California she was a dedicated fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Marylu is survived by her life partner of 35 years, Linda Day, and was a wonderful second mother to Linda's children Erica Sargent, Andrea Sargent Harbin, and Scott Sargent . She will also be missed by her grandchildren Clara and Amelia Schaeffer, Rowan and Duncan Harbin, Owen and Tavis Sargent.