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Retired SSU professor Marylu Mattson dies at 79

Monday, January 7th, 2013 | Posted by

Retired Sonoma State University Professor Marylu Mattson’s academic pursuits spanned from the research of metabolic disorders to censorship in Victorian literature.

Marylu Mattson (COURTESY PHOTO)

Mattson taught from 1970 to 1992 and helped develop curriculum for the university’s then-experimental Hutchins School of Liberal Studies.

Mattson died Dec. 30 at Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol from complications following heart surgery. She was 79.

“She was truly a Renaissance woman, she did everything and did it well,” said her partner of 35 years, Linda Day of Guerneville. “I was simply in awe of her.”

Mattson was born Sept. 12, 1933, in Los Angeles to Fred and Lucile Mattson.

She attended grammar school in central Los Angeles until her family moved to a San Fernando property with a beloved horse and an eucalyptus grove.

Mattson graduated from Mission San Fernando High School in 1951 and studied microbiology, chemistry and English at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles.

She entered a doctorate program in literature at UC Los Angeles but continued her scientific research, working at UCLA’s hematology research laboratory and other labs.

She took a summer off to study sculpture and print-making in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She joined an archeological excavation in Europe before delving into the London libraries to finish her dissertation: “Censorship and the Victorian Drama.”

Mattson was a lecturer at UCLA’s English Department from 1968 until 1970, when she joined the Sonoma State faculty.

Mattson was among a cadre of teachers who developed curriculum for the Hutchins school, at the time an experiment in small discussion-based classes blending history, science and other discliplines.

Her eclectic interests made her perfectly poised to lead such classes as “the human enigma” and “exploring the unknown,” retired Professor Les Adler said.

“Here you have somebody who wasn’t just an academic in terms of being in the classroom,” Adler said. “She was out exploring new fields, trying new techniques.”

Mattson developed long-lasting relationships with her students and became a leader among her faculty peers, holding positions in the academic senate and as provost of Hutchins.

Mattson met Day in the UCLA research labs. At the time, Day was married and they forged a deep friendship, keeping in touch even though Day moved to Germany and Montana.

Day came to visit Mattson in Sebastopol in 1981 and never left. They raised Day’s children in Sebastopol and became domestic partners in 2001.

“She’s been a second mother to my children,” Day said.

Mattson retired in 1992 for health reasons.

In 1998, she and Day moved to a cabin in South Lake Tahoe, with stints in New Mexico and Mexico, before returning to Sonoma County to a home in Guerneville.

Mattson wrote several books, including “Help Yourself: A Guide to Writing and Rewriting” and in 2012 self-published an account the war between the Modoc Indians and the Army in 1873 along the California-Oregon border, “Shaman’s Dream: The Modoc War.”

In addition to Day, Mattson is survived by Day’s children, Erica Sargent, Andrea Sargent Harbin and Scott Sargent.

A public memorial will be planned later. Memorial donations may be made to the Warren E. Olson Memorial Fund c/o Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Stevenson 1054, Rohnert Park 94928.

Philosophy and humanities Professor Warren E. Olson helped found the Hutchins school, which still exists today.

—Julie Johnson

  • Helen Jaskoski

    The high school at San Fernando Mission has had several name changes through the years, but was never “Mission San Fernando High School.” When Lu was enrolled it was called “St. Ferdinand’s,” a name she thought had embarrassing Disney associations.

Writer Spotlight

Nick Walden is our Rohnert Park + Cotati correspondent.
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