Marilyn McMahon died at her home in Santa Barbara on August 24, 2023. She was 93.
Marilyn was a force of nature. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in June 1930 to Martha and Bernard Kwiatkowski, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1948 with a degree in secondary education. She began her career in the local high schools teaching English and advising school newspapers and yearbooks. Her love of journalism began at an early age.
Coming to Santa Barbara in the mid-1950s, she met local attorney Tim McMahon, married and had Steve and Kate McMahon. Determined to forge her own identity and career, she began teaching in the Santa Barbara School District as a substitute at the Junior and Senior High Schools. In 1975 she took a full-time job writing for the Santa Barbara News-Press during its glory years under the New York Times ownership. She excelled at doing long features and interviews on a myriad of subjects. Her contact list is long and full of interesting names across the spectrum from entertainment, literature and politics.
In the early 2000s News-Press was sold, resulting in a long, slow, painful slide into its eventual bankruptcy in 2023. Marilyn remained to help form a union against some of the unfair labor practices that were imposed by the new owner. She continued to work at the News-Press until June of 2023 with the closure of the paper. That is somewhat mind-boggling to spend 48 years with the same employer and a testament to her toughness to work full time till age 93.
She loved the routine of getting up in the morning and walking one of her several rescue Labradors over the years. She would decide to change their given names to one of her choosing and then wonder why the dog didn’t come when called, never once seeing the irony. She would then head off to work in the heart of town for a full day and return home to her deck for a beloved gin and tonic overlooking the Mission. She was a tireless volunteer. She was a two-term president of the Junior League of Santa Barbara. She founded the Courthouse Docent Council and became a member of the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury. She was also the founder of the Lawyers Wives of Santa Barbara and its president for many years. She loved her house and wanted others to be able to enjoy it with her. She held a series of parties spaced throughout the year that included family, friends and always interesting people that might become good friends going forward. She relished having a diverse group over during Fiesta in August and then another elaborate get-together on Christmas Eve. Indeed, she leaves untold numbers of holiday nutcrackers that she collected over the years that all had to be placed like soldiers with military precision each year. These parties went off like clockwork for over fifty years. Babies born back in the earlier days grew up and then brought their kids as thirty-year-olds. Her living room began to get ever smaller as new generations began to cycle in. She was intensely loyal and continued these traditions all the way to her passing.
Marilyn was bold. If someone was delivering mail or a package one day in December, she had no problem asking for help to haul in a Christmas Tree or boxes of ornaments from the garage. No one ever turned her down and many did it year after year. Her sense of humor and ability to launch one-line zingers was legendary and she spared no one. It was never personal, and it was extremely endearing to try and match her wit and her command of the English language. She read voraciously and there were few topics she was not conversant in.
She is survived by her son Steve McMahon (Laurie) of Carpinteria, Calif., and Kate McMahon, of Santa Barbara, Calif. Her grandchildren are Thomas McMahon of Ventura, Calif., Megan Stone of Carpinteria, Calif., Chandler Davis of Santa Barbara, Calif. and Piper Davis of Santa Barbara, Calif. Her great-grandchildren are Augustine Colburn and Tyler Stone. She is predeceased by siblings Eleanor Zar of Birmingham, Mich., Dr. Ervin C. Kaye of San Marino, Calif., Ruth Lane of Bremerton, Wash. and Gilbert Kwiatkowski of Milwaukee, Wis.
A special thanks to Robert Davis, who was instrumental in Marilyn staying in her house during the past five years of her life. Marilyn was proud to call him “my estate manager.”
Any donations can be sent to Planned Parenthood or Santa Barbara County Courthouse Docent Council. A celebration of life is being planned. Please respond to MkMcMahon23@gmail.com if you are planning to attend and details will be provided for the time and date.