Remembering Marjorie Matthews

Marjorie Matthews poses with statue of Bob La Follette

Former La Follette School university services program associate Marjorie Matthews passed away unexpectedly in October. Members of the La Follette community remember Matthews as a truly unique person who had a passion for helping others. According to staff members who worked with her, she was warm and welcoming and embraced each task with great enthusiasm. Matthews is described as “an incredible person – unique and spunky, and gosh-darn smart” by La Follette School Director Susan Webb Yackee. “I will miss her unique brand of magic in the world,” says graduate program manager Mo O’Connor. 

During Matthews’ nearly 10-year La Follette School career, she was often the first person to greet visitors to the school. Her job responsibilities were wide-ranging. She coordinated the school’s annual Partners in Giving campaign, including a penny war that prompted friendly competition among faculty, staff, and students. While at La Follette, Matthews received several campus awards, including the Doug Palm Community Service award for her Partners in Giving efforts, and a University Staff Excellence Award from the College of Letters & Science.

Marjorie Matthews holds an award and stands between Steve Kulig and Hilary Shager.
Matthews (center) received a University Staff Excellence Award in 2016. She is joined by former associate director Hilary Shager (left) and current associate director Steve Kulig (right).

“One thing was for sure: Marjorie loved this place,” says Yackee. “She was the La Follette School’s biggest fan. According to her, our faculty were the best, our staff couldn’t be beat, and our students would lead the country. She was a joy.” 

Matthews grew up in Paterson, New Jersey and moved to Madison during college in the 1960s, where she became interested in social justice and majored in sociology. She later obtained her master’s degree in social work. As a young mother, Matthews moved to Germany with her husband and developed the first of many international friendships. When she returned to Madison, Matthews worked with foster children as a social worker.

La Follette School staff pose for a group photo outside the house on Observatory hill.
Staff and faculty gathered to celebrate Matthews’ retirement in June 2021.

In 2011, she joined the La Follette School, where she took it upon herself to become the school’s expert regarding UW–Madison policies and procedures for travel and for international students and faculty. She developed several innovative measures to support faculty and staff and was given the nickname “Marge-in-Charge.” Her experience living and working abroad drove her passion for helping La Follette community members from other countries adjust to life in Madison. She welcomed staff personally by inviting them to Thanksgiving with her family, taking them to movies, organizing weekend field trips to experience Wisconsin, helping them find apartments, and lending warm clothes for visiting family members. While at La Follette, she was honored for her work with an International Student Services mentoring group that pairs a U.S. undergraduate student with an international undergraduate student. 

In her spare time, Matthews worked as a volunteer ESL tutor. She was very active in the Racial, Equity and Justice Class at First United Methodist Church and worked on a number of other issues related to justice. She also volunteered with the Literacy Network and the Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments (BRIDGE) program on campus. Matthews sang with the Madison chapter of the Raging Grannies, a group dedicated to “singing out against those things that harm the planet we will leave to our grandkids.” She was also known for her baking, and often baked muffins, scones, and rhubarb crisp. Download Marjorie’s rhubarb crisp recipe (pdf).

Wearing brightly colored clothing, the
Matthews (right with guitar) and the Raging Grannies perform at a dedication of a plaque for the Wisconsin State Capitol’s statue of Robert M. La Follette.

 While at the La Follette School, Matthews frequently decorated the bust of Bob La Follette at the school’s Observatory Drive Office Building for different occasions. When she retired from the La Follette School in June 2021, she continued to promote Bob La Follette by creating a plaque for the bust of the former senator and Wisconsin governor for whom the La Follette School is named in the Wisconsin State Capitol building. In January 2023, she helped to dedicate the plaque at a ceremony at the Capitol. Several La Follette community members attended the ceremony, which included a Raging Grannies performance of the song “Fightin’ Bob,” cowritten by Matthews. The group performed several songs as part of a live performance and interview with WORT on the day of the ceremony. “Only Belle, Bob’s wife, loved Bob La Follette more than Marjorie,” says O’Connor. 

Matthews is survived by her husband, Boris, two children, and two grandchildren.

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