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Margaret Carothers

Pitzer administrator, beloved wife, connoisseur of culture

Margaret Eleanor Carothers, a longtime Claremont resident, died on Wednesday, July 17 following a brief illness. She was 65.

Ms. Carothers had recently retired as Director of Financial Aid at Pitzer College; she had worked in the field of student financial aid for Pitzer from 1969 until her retirement in 2012, assuming a similar position with the Claremont Graduate University during the 1980s before returning to Pitzer. She was skilled in her work and deeply committed to supporting students.

Abby Parsons, who was a professional associate and a personal friend for 4 decades, has noted that “Margaret was a mentor to many younger colleagues in the financial aid world, and 2 young women who worked with her became president of the California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, something that made her quite proud.”

Ms. Carothers was born in Oakland, California in 1948. She moved with her family to Livermore, California in 1952 when her father took a job as researcher at Livermore Radiation Laboratory (now Lawrence Livermore Laboratory). She graduated from Livermore High School in 1965, and spent the next year as an au pair with a family in England. Upon her return to the United States, she came to Claremont and entered Pitzer College. Juggling work and school, Ms. Carothers completed her degree in economics in 1980.

As a young woman, Ms. Carothers enjoyed swimming and played soccer. According to her own self-description, she was, along with her late husband, a “culture vulture.” With her spouse John E. Murphy—who predeceased her in 2006—she annually subscribed to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Mark Taper Forum, several other theatrical venues (usually smaller stages, to which she provided financial contributions), the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, Los Angeles’ major art museums and the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. In addition, she was a regular participant in a local book-reading club and frequently attended the Los Angeles Times Spring Book Festival. Indeed, she was steadfastly au courant in matters literary and theatrical.

A natural, but decorous bon vivant, she loved to entertain and was a great cook. Her famed dinner parties featured excellent food, ample drink and spirited conversation among the animated guests honored to have been there.

In the company of her husband, Ms. Carothers traveled extensively, both in the United States and overseas. One of their favorite destinations was Ireland, because it was the site of her husband’s ancestors and because she so enjoyed the country. She continued her foreign and domestic travels until her illness, usually accompanied by good friends. Among the most recent excursions was a magnificent cruise with favored companions to Alaska. Always when returning from a special expedition, she carried with her atypical, charming and much-appreciated presents for her many friends, who notably included Zoe Levy, her BFF under 20.

As her sister Katherine has observed, “Margaret had a dazzling, fabulous shoe collection.” But perhaps her most distinctive novelty obsession was with hippos. On her own, and from friends’ gifts, she collected over the years hippopotamus reproductions in a variety of modes and sizes, including the giant hippo sculpture her husband bought for her that graces her freshly reconfigured back yard.

Ms. Carothers was also civic minded. She served on the board of directors for the Claremont Chapter of the American Red Cross and participated in its blood drives and fundraising for disaster relief, and she volunteered annually with the Union Station Pasadena Homeless Shelter in providing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to the homeless at Pasadena’s Central Park.

Peter and Pat Coye were longtime neighbors. Mr. Coye shared that “Margaret was married to John Murphy for many years, bringing love, intellectual challenge, humor and companionship to someone much loved by the Claremont community. The love that John Murphy had for Margaret was one of the great love stories of Claremont.”

Throughout her life, Ms. Carothers attracted a wide variety of close friends. As Ms. Parsons has explained, she had many “pockets” of friends who initially did not know one another; she became the hub around which the pockets orbited, and, particularly in her last days, those pockets fused into a single bond of camaraderie. The circle of friends and acquaintances whose lives she touched continued to expand and thicken as time went on.

Weekly dining partners Penny Myrdal and Juanita Uster, both widowed, as was Ms. Carothers, relate that “for almost 7 years, all things were canceled if they fell on a Tuesday night. That night became sacred, as it was a night of friendship and healing, a night to take a few more steps toward acceptance on the journey of widowhood.”

Good friend David Levy remembers that one of Ms. Carothers’ favorite sayings, penned by Dr. Seuss, was “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

It’s a fitting adage for Ms. Carothers’ life, for, as her longtime friend John Moore said, “It was filled with treasured moments, and countless friends, colleagues, students and family will remember her—and those valued moments—with heartfelt fondness.”

Ms. Carothers is survived by her sisters,  Katherine Carothers of Denver,  Colorado and Alison Hetrick of Tracy, California; by her brother and sister-in-law, Thomas and Andrea Carothers of Washington, DC and Budapest, Hungary; by her stepchildren, John Prentice Murphy of Alexandria, Virginia and Kristin Murphy-Avina of Los Alamitos, California; and by several nieces and nephews, including Jennifer Marlar Graham, Matthew Marlar, Christopher Carothers, Vera Carothers and Roza Carothers.

A memorial service will be held for Ms. Carothers on Saturday, August 3 at 9 a.m., at Oak Park Cemetery, 410 S. Sycamore Ave.

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