I hope you’ve had a chance to meet Marion at our Holiday Open House this year and years past. She is lively, a great joy to have a conversation with, and ever upbeat and optimistic. I’m going to tell you a little bit about her here in this Blog. She no longer keeps up with her computer and email, so we sat down over lunch and birthday cake here in our offices (a small party that she drove herself to after just passing her driver’s test with flying colors!) and chatted about her life and times.
Marion grew up in Minneapolis and didn’t move to the Bay Area until she married her husband, John Leland. He also grew up in Minneapolis and they knew each other from the time she was three and he was eight years old. In fact, John’s uncle was the doctor who delivered Marion! John later became a doctor himself, setting up practice as a family physician in the Bay Area.
Marion, being a child of the Great Depression, is a very practical woman, and comes from a long line of smart, practical women. Marion’s mother insisted she be able to support herself, and so at her mother’s urging Marion attended business school. Putting that education to good use right away, Marion worked during the war in a manufacturing plant in Minneapolis that made gun mounts for battleships. She was secretary to one of the commanding officers. Although her husband proposed to her during this time (she was 25 when he first proposed), she didn’t want to be a war bride. Knowing a great catch when he saw it, John didn’t give up. He had the perfect ring custom made for her at Shreve’s in San Francisco. She finally allowed herself to be “caught” and they were married March 17th, 1944 at the Women’s Club in Minneapolis. Marion Bryant became Marion Leland!
Life in Berkeley, where they settled, was a busy time for her. In addition to being a full-time mother to their daughter, Robin, Marion was very involved in service-based activities, including the Women’s Medical Society. In 1948 her mother-in-law invited her to join the Piedmont-Oakland Chapter of the Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O.) and she has been a member for over 60 years. Marion is most proud of the work she did for this organization, as her committee was responsible for interviewing young women applying for scholarships to college and eventually awarding thousands of dollars. For her scholarship work at John F. Kennedy School of Law, Marion was honored with a special plaque for her many years of work in securing scholarships and financial aid for deserving women law students. She also did some scholarship work at Diablo Valley Junior College. Even though she moved to Lafayette, and later, after her husband passed away, to Pleasant Hill, Marion still stayed extremely involved in this Chapter and its fine causes. She has not only kept in touch with chapter members, but also with many of the women who were recipients of these life-changing scholarships. They adore her.
Marion lost her husband at a relatively young age from early onset Alzheimer’s. In fact we met at a meeting where I spoke about tax and financial planning issues for families whose loved ones were suffering from this awful disease. Never one to sit about and feel sorry for herself, Marion immediately set to work to take command of her entire life and also of Robin’s. Without a husband at a time when most women relied on theirs for so many life decisions, she picked herself up and did everything from managing their complex financial situation, to learning how to clean the pool herself!
Marion, to this day, continues to care for her adult daughter, Robin. Robin was diagnosed with an array of disabilities during her late teen years, moved back home, and has only been able to work outside the home briefly. To say that Marion has become profoundly knowledgeable about her daughter’s complex needs and an advocate for her, would be an understatement. Most women, faced with the early loss of a husband and a grown daughter to care for, would feel incredibly sorry for themselves. But here’s where Marion’s story becomes so unique: she simply never complains. She has told me for many years that it’s a benefit to have a responsibility --- something beyond oneself. She does credit herself for being an information seeker and has constant contact with those professionals who can help her improve upon her knowledge. Her deep Mid West American roots and strong family values, not to mention her incredible work ethic, have been instrumental in helping her support and focus on her daughter when she had no background and no exposure to otherwise guide her.
Marion celebrates 97 years on planet Earth!
When you meet Marion you’ll also note that she is remarkably spry, has a wonderful smile and laugh, is petite and very physically fit. She tells me that her secret to this physical fitness is that she moves --- a lot! When she was in Lafayette, everything from working in the garden to cleaning the pool to walking the reservoir was part of her fitness regimen. Now she still walks every night and these past three years she’s been taking Flex for Fitness classes at the Pleasant Hill Senior Center. She also lifts light weights! Her recommendation? Get out with a group of your contemporaries and get some sun, air, light and exercise!
Her doctor says she’ll easily make it to be 100, and I’m not betting against it! In fact, we are already planning Marion’s “surprise” 100th birthday party! Look for your invitation in three years!
If you would like to reach Marion, please let us know, and we’ll put you in touch. Or we will simply point her out to you at our next party!
Wishing you all a wonderful and fit holiday with your family, friends and loved ones!