Colorado Hearing Foundation

Marion’s Life Celebration

Remembering Marion Downs: Marion’s Memorial Life Celebration (by Jerry Northern)

We are here tonight to remember Marion Downs – but truthfully, there is little chance any of us will EVER forget her. In fact, anyone who ever met here can probably remember the precise time and place where they first encountered her – she had a lively presence that was both contagious and unforgettable. Reader’s Digest used to have a monthly article on the “most unforgettable character” – well… for me that describes Marion: she was the most colorful and charismatic person I have ever known.

She would be very pleased with this gathering tonight – she told me years ago that she would leave me $10,000 in her will and I was to put on a fun party when she passed on – so here we are – but I guess that check is still in the mail someplace?

Thinking back to the 40 years I worked beside Marion gives me pause to recall so many wonderful memories about her. I loved her buoyant personality and her carefree outlook on life. Through the years, she roped me into many of her zany antics – and kept me laughing most of the time. We got along fabulously and I honestly can’t remember a harsh word between us. I suppose that is because we each had our own special interests and skills, but easily worked together toward common goals.

Marion was extremely intelligent and not one to copy the efforts of others; she was scholarly and could be intensely focused. She was one of those rare individuals with bright and original thinking – and generally a step or two ahead of those around her. I could talk for hours about her unique personality, her humorous antics, her liberal political views, her incredible cross-word puzzle solving skills, her tireless energy, her surprising athleticism, her occasional bawdiness, her avowed feminism and her insatiable love for all things related to hearing.

One of her favorite stories, which many of you will likely have heard her tell, was about the girl who hung around with a group of prostitutes – and was shocked to learn that they were being paid for what she was doing for fun! Marion usually concluded this story with the comment that is how she felt about her work in audiology: “If they hadn’t paid me for doing it, I would have done it for free.” In fact, billing for her services was usually far from her mind – much to the chagrin of the hospital administration. We had to follow her around to be sure she filed the appropriate paperwork for the patient services she provided. It was not uncommon for her to continue to work with a patient long after normal hospital hours – and I’m sure those late hours were never billed.

She was a great jokester –spontaneous and funny and loved to play practical jokes on her friends and colleagues – including me as I was often the butt of her jokes.

Marion had a great stage presence and everyone wanted her to be a speaker on their program. I always tried to make my presentation before hers as woe be to the person who had to follow her – she had such an immediate intimate and positive interaction with every audience, that she was indeed a tough act to follow.

I remember so well her sitting in the midst of her messy desk – probably the messiest office you could ever imagine! Yet among the piles of materials on her desk, shelves, drawers and floor space, she could immediately locate any specific note, article, book or manuscript. My office was considerably more orderly, and following a few of my hints that perhaps she might consider ‘re-organizing’ her office – she left a bold sign on my desk that said “Beware: A tidy desk is a sign of a deranged mind.”

Oh sure…she was forgetful – after all she had lots on her mind – all the time. We spent lots of time and effort covering for her. She always forgot her weekly hair appointment which she usually suddenly remembered in the midst of some other activity. One learned quickly not to be in her way as she would drop everything, stop in mid-conversation and make a bee-line to keep that appointment. Somehow details were not important to Marion…and she counted on us to keep her on schedule.

Marion never met a person she didn’t like. Well…actually, I do remember a couple of exceptions to that statement. She had special names for those people that I can’t repeat here tonight – and she would express her distain of them by writing clever limericks denouncing them in very special terms! Mostly, she made everyone feel like they were her best friend. She met so many people in her lifetime, she loved them all and they all loved her. However, she was not so good at remembering names. It was not unusual for her to spend a couple of hours with a visitor, laughing and chatting, and when the visitor departed she would inevitably stick her head in my office to ask who was that person?

She was a fabulous hostess to all our visitors: I used to laughingly say that if Jack the Ripper or Freddy from Elm Street visited our clinic to see her, she would quickly volunteer to give them a tour of Denver, invite them to her home, fix dinner and offer her guest bedroom for the night.

I always relished being in Marion’s shadow and having my name attached to hers. I make no apologies about ‘riding her coat tails.’ Even today, when I travel to professional events and meet new people, they usually say, “Nice to meet you, Jerry – but please tell me: How is Marion Downs?” She was both modest and humble – she had no interest in fame or notoriety; she genuinely wondered why people loved her and admired her so? And, she inevitably blamed me for making her famous…. ☺

But most of all, I remember and admired Marion as a remarkable woman who proved, without a doubt, that ONE person can make a significant difference in this world; she indeed had THE POWER of ONE – she showed that perseverance, tempered with patience and charm, could absolutely move a mountain! There is no question that she changed the world for countless children and their families and for all of us who knew her.

It is difficult to be sad for a life so well lived; her many, many accomplishments will serve to inspire, influence and encourage others for years to come. Every baby or child tested for hearing will bear her imprint; she left a legacy that will live forever in our memories.

So please grab a glass and join me a toast in honor of Marion Downs: It makes me sad to think of her as gone – but frankly, whenever I think of her, she makes me smile. Marion was a great gift to all of us – and we stand a little taller and shine a little brighter because of her – Marion, here’s to ya!