Marilyn Gorlin, one of the powerful women who shaped Minnesota's DFL Party from behind the scenes during the tumultuous 1960s and '70s, died on Thursday at age 86. She lived in Golden Valley.

She served as vice chair of the party in 1964, and she was one of the first party leaders to support Eugene McCarthy instead of Hubert Humphrey as the 1968 Democratic candidate for president because of her opposition to the war in Vietnam.

"She was always a strong woman who had her own ideas," said her daughter, Cathy Gorlin, of Golden Valley, an attorney with the Twin Cities firm Best & Flanagan.

And she never hesitated to voice them, said her friends and children.

"She had her opinions, and she did not hesitate to tell you what they were. And that was fine," said longtime friend Geri Joseph, former ambassador to the Netherlands and a longtime DFLer.

Born a New Yorker, Gorlin became a devoted Minnesotan after she and her husband, the late Dr. Robert Gorlin of the University of Minnesota, moved to the state in 1956, settling in Golden Valley.

She developed a passion for politics in New York, Cathy Gorlin said, but flourished in Minnesota at a time when women were rarely in the spotlight. In Minnesota, "she felt it was easy if you were interested to become active, and she rose through the ranks," her daughter said.

She led opposition to the Vietnam War within the DFL Party even though Humphrey, who was President Lyndon Johnson's vice president, supported the war. Humphrey was Gorlin's political ally and a friend, but she chose not to support him because of his position on the war.

"Ultimately, the party came around to her view," said son-in-law Marshall Tanick, also an attorney. "It took a lot of personal and political courage."

She remained active in party politics after she began working at the university as a grants administrator for international programs and later for the Department of Psychoeducational Studies. After her retirement, she remained active in the community and was an advocate for liberal and progressive causes.

She also was an ardent Twins fan and "a voracious reader," Joseph said.

Gorlin never lost her taste or passion for politics, her friends and family said, and was a frequent contributor to newspaper letters pages.

In a 2009 letter to the Star Tribune about President Obama's health care plan, she wrote, "It is time for grandmothers to unite against the patronizing Palins and groveling Grassleys who want to take away choice at the end of our lives."

In her later years, she watched politics from a distance but with no less interest, Joseph said. Gorlin and Joseph were in the same book club and often discussed how politics had fundamentally changed in recent years, an indication that the world itself was transforming itself in some unpredictable way.

"There is this feeling that we are in a kind of incredible transition," Joseph said. " She had great interest in that, the change and where we were going."

In addition to her daughter and son-in-law, Gorlin is survived by a son, Jed; a sister, Claire, and five grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in December.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394