Remembering Marnie Furbush

May 24, 2018
photo of Marnie Furbush

With deep sadness, I note the passing on May 17, 2018, of Marnie Furbush, a remarkable friend and ally of Stanford Libraries and Special Collections over many years. Staff who’ve worked in Green Library for a long time may remember her gracious ways, keen intellect, and generosity. Marnie befriended everyone whose path she crossed, from the mail room to the directors’ office.

Much more than a friendly presence, she made significant things happen for the libraries by working diplomatically, persuasively, and steadfastly behind the scenes. From the mid-1980s well into the 2000s, Marnie contributed untold hours volunteering for Special Collections, serving on the board and as chair of the Associates of the Stanford University Libraries and, notably, as longtime editor of the Libraries’ semi-annual journal, Imprint. Ten years ago, following the death of her husband, Malcolm Furbush, she relocated to Placerville to be closer to her daughter and grandson. Though physically distant, she continued to wield her incisive red pencil and perspicacious editorial judgement on exhibit-related publications.

Marnie possessed a strong will, a sharp mind, and a compassionate spirit. Following a prolonged period of declining health, she chose to depart on her own terms, in consultation with her family and with assistance from her physician. At her request, memorial donations may be made to the Malcolm and Margaret Furbush Book Fund.

In 2000, Marnie received the Howell Award, named for Stanford alumnus, bibliophile, and donor Warren R. Howell, which Stanford Libraries grants on an occasional basis to honor an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the local world of books and libraries. What follows is the slightly modified text of the tribute I wrote for the Howell Award program. 

Margaret M. Furbush (2000 Howell Award)

The Howell Award of the year 2000 honors Margaret McKittrick Furbush, whose roster of accomplishments on behalf of Stanford’s Library is nearly as long as her commitment is deep. Marnie came to Stanford as a freshman in 1943 keen to study literature. She received her BA (1947) and MA (1949) in English philology, and met her future husband, Malcolm Furbush, a classmate and law student. After considering a career in academia, she chose marriage and family and devoted her considerable energy to raising three children, managing a household, and doing extensive community service work.

In the early 1980s, drawn back to Stanford through the efforts of a longtime friend and fellow alumna, Marnie began a second career working as a volunteer in the Department of Special Collections. Here she made the acquaintance of poet and novelist Janet Lewis, with whom she worked on the organization and documentation of her literary papers, an ongoing project that led to a warm friendship and resulted in periodic additions of material to the Yvor Winters and Janet Lewis papers in the Libraries. The Malcolm and Margaret Furbush Book Fund, established in the mid-1980s, makes possible occasional acquisitions of special collections materials.

In 1987, Marnie joined the publications committee of ASUL, the Associates of the Stanford University Libraries. As the primary force behind the revival of the Associates’ semi-annual journal Imprint (1975–1987; 1994–2009), which resumed publication in the fall of 1994 after a seven-year hiatus, she earned a reputation as a meticulous editor and showed—notably with the ambitious fall 1999 issue devoted to the reopening of Green Library’s Bing Wing—that when deadlines press and blood pressures rise, she keeps a clear head and a firm grip. During many hectic weeks of being on call for phone consultations, midnight meetings, and reading page proofs while presses were running, Marnie rose with the larks and flew with the owls.    

As chair of the Associates’ board beginning in 1997, she was an effective, respected, and tireless leader, guiding the organization through a renaissance that included celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary, and the reopening of Green Library post-Loma Prieta earthquake. Her leadership was key to the success of several significant programs, including the events marking the gift of the William Saroyan Archive, and a program honoring The Yolla Bolly Press’s publication of John Fowles’ “The Nature of Nature” and “The Tree,” which brought Fowles to Stanford. She also provided invaluable assistance with the preparation and installation of major exhibitions in the Bing Wing.

This award honors Marnie’s spirit of generosity, equanimity, and regard for others and their work as much as it acknowledges her substantive contributions. More than professional, she is a diplomat, a bridge builder, and a matchmaker, often working behind the scenes to bring people with specific talents together with work that needs to be done. Many of us have stories to tell of how, through attentiveness and appreciation, Marnie has renewed our spirits when they were flagging. (One staff member recalled how, after Marnie took her to lunch to talk about her work, she felt revitalized, as if she’d “spent the afternoon at a spa.”) In addition to being a doer, Marnie is a motivator. Her quiet, firm sense of expectation, implied trust, and confidence have inspired many of us to give of ourselves and our time beyond our original inclinations. When Marnie approaches with a special assignment, almost before you know it, you hear yourself saying, “Okay, I think I can take that on.” Her gratitude is so true that you find yourself taking on the next job, and the next. Then you realize that you’ve learned a good deal and grown in the process—and that you have gained a dear friend and ally.

Becky Fischbach

Postscript: Marnie handed over editorship of Imprint to Barbara Gelpi (Prof. of English, Emeritus) in 2005. ASUL was disbanded in 2007. From 2007 to 2009, when it ceased publication, Imprint was published under the auspices of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives.