If Marjorie Williams, wife, mother, and Washington journalist who died Sunday of cancer at age 47, had been blessed with better health, more of our InkWell readers would know enough about her to mourn with us here at InkWell.
Williams, a former Washington Post staff writer who became a regular contributor to Vanity Fair during the 1990s before her lengthy battle with the disease that killed her, was a Democrat and a doctrinaire feminist, not the sort of woman we usually go for here. But she was always more than that, taking on her own party and her own value system when they hypocritically betrayed her. I’m going to quote from Jack Shafer’s fine obituary for her on Slate, where her husband, Timothy Noah, works as a columnist:
“In the May 1998 Vanity Fair, Marjorie–feminist and Democrat–plays against her comrades by turning the gaze upon President Clinton’s feminist supporters. Why had they refused to rebuke this sexual predator? She writes:
“‘Only a decade ago, a single liaison with a woman to whom he had no professional connection squashed Gary Hart’s career like a bug. Yet today Clinton is accused of traducing every boundary we have uneasily set around sex in the workplace, and Americans–especially American women–reply with a yawn.’
“Political feminists, she discovers, are as easily corrupted as any special interest group. As long as the Clinton administration advanced their agenda, the personal need not equal the political for feminists, she finds to her disappointment.”
Nor was Clinton the only Democrat whom Williams took on among a slew of Republicans in her career as a profiler of the politically powerful. As Jack writes:
“Marjorie’s best Washington pieces analyze the social structure of the city and the values of its prominent citizens, values she didn’t accept. Breaking apart such machers as Vernon Jordan, Colin Powell, Al Gore, Terry McAuliffe, James Baker, and Strobe Talbott to see what made them tick was how she earned her living, but she never aspired to their world as do so many Washington ‘power’ journalists. Marjorie and her husband, Slate’s Timothy Noah, preferred the shabby chic of D.C.’s Takoma Park neighborhood, devoting themselves to their son and daughter and lavishing their ample love on friends.”
During her last years, as the disease got the better of her, Williams contributed occasional (that was the best she could manage) and heartbreaking op-ed pieces to the Post about her children, her struggles to get through each medicated day, and the values of honesty and compassion that she held dear. I never met her myself, but I know many, many Washingtonians (including The Other Charlotte) who held her in the highest respect and and regarded her with the greatest affection. I am so sorry about her passing. I know that we all are.