Whether through the 125 Christmas cards she sent annually or the memoir that won her a Minnesota Book Award, Marjorie Myers Douglas knew how to tell a story and connect with people.
The author and social worker, confidante and great-grandmother died Dec. 9 of pneumonia. She was 103.
She grew up in Minneapolis, the daughter of a University of Minnesota professor and a librarian who valued education deeply and pushed her to earn a degree.
After spending years as a social worker in New York and Minneapolis, the “incurably optimistic city girl,” as she described herself in one memoir, moved to a farm in Appleton, Minn., with her husband, Don.
Eventually they returned to the Twin Cities, where Myers Douglas took a job as a social worker for Minneapolis public schools.
She chronicled their farm experience — feeding colts, cooking without running water — decades later after her retirement.
“I have dreamed of being a writer since I was in grade school, but as a child of the Depression, I prepared instead for a practical career,” she wrote in the preface of her award-winning book, “Eggs in the Coffee, Sheep in the Corn,” about her 17 years as a farm wife.
That first book was followed four years later by “Barefoot on Crane Island,” a story of her childhood summers in a cottage on Lake Minnetonka.
In the book, published in 1998 by Minnesota Historical Society Press, she reminisced about an idyllic life on the island that could be reached by steamboat and was “a retreat rather than a resort, and we depended on the lake and on each other for our enjoyment.”
She also wrote a book about her grandfather’s experience in the Civil War, which included excerpts from his diary. It was not published.
Myers Douglas quickly consumed difficult books — “heavy, dense materials” — and appreciated good writing, said Kay Douglas, her daughter-in-law.
She was a thin woman with a quick intellect — and a quick stride, even in her later years, Kay Douglas said, recalling a walk she took with her husband, Bill, and Myers Douglas a few years ago.
“We were trying to keep up with her on a partial jaunt around Lake Calhoun. And using her walker she easily left us in the dust,” Douglas said.
Myers Douglas would often watch over her grandchildren, giving them piano lessons before sending them off to school. After school, they would discuss their days.
“If they had any problems she would always encourage them, by asking them questions, to think for themselves. To work out solutions to their problems, pushing their maturity level,” Douglas said. “She carried her social working skills into her everyday life.”
Those skills were also evident when Myers Douglas met new people, Bill Douglas said. She wanted to learn what was important to them and valued their honesty. She was able to forge lasting relationships quickly.
Last year she was still writing letters to someone she met on a trip to London 30 years ago.
She lived through the Great Depression and two World Wars, but maintained an impenetrable positivity, her family said. She pulled through troubled times saying, “Just lucky, I guess,” Kay Douglas said. “She was a role model to the younger generations and she was a very positive person. She valued the positives she found in people, their talents.”
She is survived by her children Anne Brothers, Bill and Bruce; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Jan. 17 at Edina Morningside Community Church.