Marjorie Rachlin died on Sunday, August 22nd. She was 99 years old.
Forest Hills Connection readers may know her best from her “Backyard Nature” articles. To her friends and neighbors, she was known throughout the years as a labor educator, community activist, and avid gardener and birder. She was also one of my dearest friends.
Marge and I met on the ANC back in 1992. We were both dealing with contentious issues: she, the Methodist Home (now Forest Hills of DC) expansion, and me, Levine Music’s move to Upton Street. We would meet at her house or mine to strategize and commiserate about our “Not In My Backyard” neighbors.
One day she came over for tea, she sat down and said, “You should do something with your front yard.”
One thing you learn, being Marge’s friend, is that she doesn’t mince her words. Another thing I learned is that she was quite the gardener. Marge’s backyard features a lovely English-style garden (seen here from her back porch). Anyway, I told her that I agreed with her, and we made a deal. I would do something with my front yard if she would become my partner. And the two of us were off and running.
She had learned about gardening from her mother and I learned from her. We also learned together.
Both Marge and I liked to write, and one of us suggested taking writing classes together. We ended up taking classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. There she wrote personal essays focused on nature.
One that stood out was about the characters in her bird-watching group. She’d meet up with them at the Rock Creek Park maintenance yard, which is a prime spot to see migrating birds on their flights north in the spring and south in the fall. The people she described were just as colorful as the birds they loved, and I wondered whether the bird watching was just an excuse to meet up.
Marge would go on to write about the birders for Forest Hills Connection in 2017 (“Two legs, strange plumage: The birders have descended on Rock Creek”). And it was her love of writing and nature that helped plant the seed that would eventually grow into this publication.
Nearly a decade ago, I was at loose ends after winding down a community project. While figuring out what I wanted to do next, I thought about Marge’s writing. I also thought the neighborhood could use a hyperlocal news publication and virtual gathering place to foster a stronger sense of community. I asked her if she would write some nature pieces, and she loved the idea. So, since Forest Hills Connection launched in 2012, we have learned from Marge about the abundance of wild things in Rock Creek Park, our backyards, and even our balconies. (One of her first nature pieces, on squirrels and the 2012 bumper crop of acorns, reigns as the most popular FHC article of all time, and still gets dozens of views every month.)
Many of Marge’s longtime friends and acquaintances know her from her years in the labor movement. She worked with many different unions teaching members how to organize. When I met her she was still doing some training with the flight attendants. She talked about how their union had ignored the flight attendants because they were women. She helped them change that dynamic. In one of my last visits with Marjorie she told me about an upcoming visit with a friend, Susan Bianchi, whom she had not seen in a long time. Susan was a mover and shaker in the flight attendant labor union Marge had trained. She was very much looking forward to this visit before she died.
Marge maintained a large group of friends and a full social calendar up until almost the very end, even though her heart troubles had forced her to slow down in her mid 80s. She took care of everyone around her. She was very proud of her housekeeper going back to school for her GED, and offered to help pay for the program.
In the last couple of months, she talked to me about her concerns with settling her estate. She was worried about leaving Douglas, her nephew, all the responsibility of dealing with cleaning out the house when she died. I told her I would help him out. She was relieved. I asked what she planned to do with her library of nature books. She shook her head. She had no plans. I told her I would take them. Her eyes brightened and I got a big smile and a nod.
She was well prepared to leave this world behind. She had made her final decisions on how much and to whom she would leave her family, friends and the many organizations she supported. She made sure she said her last farewell to the important people in her life. And she was annoyed she could not die exactly at the moment that she had appointed the appropriate time. But that was Marge.
Goodbye, Marge. I will miss you.
Here are the details of the memorial service for Marjorie Rachlin:
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
11:00am – 2:00pm, including reception
Woodend Sanctuary & Mansion
8940 Jones Mill Road, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
The outdoor gathering will take place rain or shine. Carpooling is suggested due to limited parking. Colorful or flowered attire is encouraged. Please wear a mask.
The courtesy of a reply is requested to help with planning: NJallchin@gmail.com.