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Marianne Alcorn: dedicated, tenacious, beloved
Marianne Alcorn, a dedicated and tenacious law librarian who served the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law for 30 years as Head of Reference and Faculty Services, died Dec. 26, after a nearly two-year battle with cancer. She was 59.
“Marianne Alcorn was, in many respects, the heart and soul of this law school,” said Dean Paul Schiff Berman. “Because I arrived only 2½ years ago, I did not get to know Marianne as well as many at the College of Law, but it was clear to me even in the short time I knew her how much Marianne loved the law school and was devoted to its research enterprise, its outreach to alumni, and the preservation of its unique history."
The College of Law is establishing a scholarship in Marianne’s name. To contribute, you can write a check to the ASU Foundation with “Marianne Alcorn Scholarship” in the memo line and mail it to the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Office of Institutional Advancement, Arizona State University, P.O. Box 879901, Tempe, AZ 85287-9901. An online link to donate will be posted soon.
Thoughts about Marianne can be contributed
“Marianne could always be counted on to keep track of the activities of alumni and to make sure our historical record as a school was accurate,” Berman said. “She was unfailingly supportive, cheerful, and professional in all aspects of her job. And as her health declined over the past year, she repeatedly expressed to me how beneficial it was for her to come into work whenever she could and remain an active part of our community. She was an extraordinary person and an invaluable part of this law school, and she will be missed by all.”
Marianne received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and her master’s degree in library science from the University of Southern California. She was a Reference Librarian at the Marian Gallagher Law Library at the University of Washington before joining the law school in 1981, and taught legal research in the Center for Executive Development, College of Business, at ASU for five years. She was a member of the American Association of Law Libraries, was on the Board and was president (2001-2002) of the Arizona Association of Law Libraries.
Marianne at a birthday celebration.
“She was a friend and mentor to decades of law students, a trusted researcher for faculty and members of the bench and bar throughout the state and beyond,” said Victoria Trotta, Associate Dean for Information Technology and the Ross-Blakley Law Library. “She shared her expertise and philosophy of reference service through her publications and her service to local and national associations, including the American Association of Law Libraries, Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section. Moreover, she was a leader among academic professionals on the Arizona State University campus, serving on numerous task forces and University Academic Senate Committees.
“She was beloved by all who knew her and her loss will be felt by all of us who had the honor of knowing her and working with her.”
Alison Ewing, a reference librarian who worked with Marianne for 16 years at the College of Law, knew her for 10 years before joining the staff.
“I was a librarian at a law firm,” Ewing said. “Marianne helped me get this job at the law school and really went to bat for me because they wanted someone with an academic background.”
Ewing said she and Marianne were great friends, and did things together as single mothers with their children.
“We would butt heads all the time, because she was a very circuitous thinker and I am extremely direct, both of which have their problems,” Ewing said. “But somehow, we always ended up with the same opinion on things.”
The argued so much that once they made fellow librarian Beth DiFelice, now Assistant Director and Head of Public Services, cry. They had to go to counseling after that.
loved that,” Ewing said.
Beth DiFelice and Marianne.
DiFelice said Marianne, famous for her chocolate chip cookies, would always apologize with chocolate.
“Marianne and I shared a love of desserts,” DiFelice said. “Shortly after I moved to Arizona, she stopped by my apartment one evening with a piece of carrot cake she had just made. I have a hard time thinking about Marianne without thinking about how much she loved chocolate.
“She had a wonderful sense of humor,” DiFelice said. “We teased each other incessantly. We were good friends, and I will miss her tremendously.”
Ewing said Marianne was a perfectionist.
“She was the best reference librarian I have ever known in my life, and I’ve known a lot,” Ewing said. “She was so tenacious, and even with the new technology, the Internet and digital resources, she would never hesitate to get on the phone and call someone to get an answer. That was her trademark.”
She was part of the fabric of the intellectual community of the law school, hand-delivering her research to faculty to get their reaction and ask what else they were working on to get the next question.
Professor Ann Stanton, who met Marianne when they both started at the law school, said Marianne was dedicated to her work and her family, and especially enjoyed the first-year students.
“The students really relied on her when they would get stuck on a research paper, and she made friends with them and stayed friends with them,” Stanton said. “She was very loyal to the faculty, too, and if you expressed interest in a subject, she would keep you updated on it forever.”
Marianne with alumni at a basketball game.
arianne would cull newspapers and magazines for news of graduates to share with faculty.
“I think she did it out of real interest,” Stanton said. “She was really linked to the students. She was the glue for a lot of people.”
Professor Jonathan Rose, who worked with Marianne for three decades, called her “wonderful, warm and talented,” and said she was a great help as he switched his area of interest from antitrust, regulation and legal ethics to medieval and early modern English legal history.
“We had a close working relationship,” Rose said. “She always found a way to get things done. As I switched to English legal history, she became very adept in locating the sources. It was more unusual than the typical research assistance and she learned a lot of new things.
“She was invaluable to me,” Rose said. “Moreover, she played a critical role in the development of the English Legal History Room in the library.
“Finally she provided substantial support and assistance in the Legal History Conferences we held as well as when we hosted the Annual Conference of the American Society for Legal History in 2007,” Rose said. “Much of all this work was a product of her enthusiasm, resourcefulness, initiative, diligence and hard work. She was one of key staff who are the core and foundation of the College of Law, both day-to-day and over the years. The College will miss her dearly, both as a person and as a professional librarian.”
Victoria Trotta and Marianne practice their librarian "shoosh."
Jennifer Barnes, Director of the College’s Clinical Program the Civil Justice Clinic and the Externship Program, said anytime she asked for something, she would tell Marianne to call her when it was ready to be picked up.
“Twelve seconds later, she would be standing at my door with it in her hand,” Barnes said. “It was all about service with her. Even in the end, when she was in pain, if I came to see her in the library, if someone came looking for something, she would immediately jump up and get it for them. I was floored by her mantra of customer service.”
Barnes said Marianne always made sure she had what she needed, and didn’t want to pay for something that wasn’t authentic.
“I remember going to breakfast with her once, and we were grilling the waitress about the syrup,” Barnes said. “She was running back to the kitchen to see what it was, and once we determined that it wasn’t 100 percent pure Vermont maple syrup, Marianne reached into her purse and pulled out a bottle she’d brought from home.”
She was obsessed with recycling.
“I was baffled by her recycling,” Barnes said. “I could never figure out where to throw anything away, there were so many containers under her sink. And don’t mess with her system. Don’t throw anything into the wrong container. Even at her Christmas party, with 60 people there, she was in the kitchen making sure the trash was put in the right container.”
Barnes said she will always remember eating pizza and laughing over movies, laughing a lot.
Marianne and Jennifer Barnes in their matching outfits.
“I always had a blast with her,” she said. “Once (former Dean) Trish (White) came to town and we went to lunch at Marianne’s. Because Marianne and I had the same shorts in our closet, we decided to mess with Trish, and we both wore the same outfit. It wasn’t until we were taking pictures in the back yard that Trish finally noticed, and we just cracked up.”
Cathy O’Grady, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs and the Profession, called Marianne “a true friend over the last 20 years.”
“I will always remember the first time I discovered how funny she was,” O’Grady said. “She was roasting one of the other law professors, I think it might have been Jon Rose, in front of a huge audience in the rotunda of the school. She was hilarious and completely comfortable speaking to such a large group. I was blown away by her poise and her wonderful sense of humor.
“I have since watched her roast others in addition to Jon, including Ira Ellman and Alan Matheson. I discovered that she was a very smart, multi-faceted, talented woman.”
O’Grady said that Marianne always took care of her.
“She knew what I needed in my work and I think she truly enjoyed helping me accomplish my tasks,” O’Grady said. “When the library got more high-tech, the librarians were supposed to train us to do a lot of our research ourselves on the computer. Marianne would come to my office, sit in my chair, show me what to do on my computer, and then, seeing the look of alarm on my face, she would tell me, ‘Don’t worry, I’m still going to help you. Just e-mail me like you always do.’ She knew me well and she was always there for me.”
Marianne with, from left, Nick, Marcela, Geoff and Thomas.
Marianne moved to Arizona with her husband, Richard, who remained a friend after they divorced. She is survived by her brother, John Sidorski, of Napa, Calif., her two sons, Nick, 24, who is in dental school at the University of Pennsylvania, and Geoff, 30, who is a project manager for E&J Gallo Winery in Modesto, Calif., Geoff’s wife, Marcela, and their son, Thomas, 18 months.
“She was an excellent mother,” Nick said. “She would give up anything for her kids. If she saw something they needed, she would see to it.”
Nick remembers working vacations with his mom, including one on which she was conducting a review of Pac-10 law schools and took the boys along.
“She would get her work done and take us to see things,” he said.
Marianne was stubborn in her work and her mothering, Nick said.
“One of her passions was her career,” Nick said. “She would always find an answer. She didn’t accept ‘no’ as an answer and always kept going.”
That tenacity was apparent even as she dealt with cancer, Nick said.
“She didn’t want the illness to change the way her life was before,” Nick said.
Throughout her treatment, she continued to exercise nearly every day, doing water aerobics, going to the gym near her Tempe home and taking spin classes.
“She was determined to stay in as good shape as she could,” Professor Stanton said. “She really wanted to live and she was working at it.”
Geoff said it took the boys several months to understand why she wanted to keep going to work despite the difficult treatments she was facing.
“We kept telling her, ‘Mom, you have to put your energy toward the treatments. You don’t have time to work,’ but she said, ‘It’s what I want to do. Everything else is treatments and medical appointments; cancer has taken over everything. All my friends are at work and it takes my mind off of the treatments.’ After she said that, we finally got it.
“She truly enjoyed working at the law school, and was at work the day she had to go to the Mayo Medical Clinic about 2½ months ago, that was her last day at work.”
Marianne never shied from a difficult task, and when a check-cashing store was going to move into the shopping center next to her home, she took the fight all the way to Tempe City Hall, and got a new law passed that required such stores to be a certain number of feet from residential housing. It stopped the store in its tracks, and remains on the books today.
The boys loved to hear about Marianne’s orientation tours for incoming first-year law students, which were taken at Marianne’s pace…very, very fast.
“She’d come home and we’d say, ‘How many did you lose today?’ and she’d say, ‘Oh, four or five at the back,’ ” Geoff said. “Even this year, she said, ‘I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I lost a couple.’ ”
Geoff said Marianne always provided the best for her sons: the best schools, great vacations on the beach in Oceanside, great restaurants, even enrolling them in traveling ice hockey, which was an expensive, time-consuming endeavor.
“She made a lot of sacrifices as a single mother, never spared any expense for us, and there were a lot of kids I knew with two parents at home who didn’t have the experiences we did,” Geoff said.
Marianne and Thomas
Marianne was infatuated with her grandson, Thomas, and Geoff said “they were eerily on the same wavelength.”
“She said they were always at similar stages,” Geoff said. “He didn’t want to take naps and she didn’t want to. He didn’t want to drink water, and she didn’t want to. It was a level of communication that not even my wife or I have with him.”
“She would take him in the back yard to walk around and point to things like birds and the wind. He would wait by the sliding glass door to go out with her. When she was in bed, the last couple of months, he would come in to say goodnight and she would whisper in his ear and he would laugh. He gave her so much happiness, and I think that really helped her the last year and a half.”
Marianne also was instilling a love of books, buying two copies of a book, one for herself and one for Thomas, and reading it to him long-distance through Skype, which allows online video phone calls.
Marianne making her fruitcake.
Nick said she kept her dry, subtle humor, which was always evident in her famous Christmas letters, one of many traditions she upheld.
Despite the illness, she continued making her annual fruitcake, infused with liquor even though she didn’t drink, which she started around Thanksgiving.
Her brother, John Sidorski, speaking after the services on Dec. 31, said he was enjoying the stories about Marianne from her friends and co-workers.
Sidorski said one of Marianne’s hobbies was food.
“She should be in the Costco Hall of Fame,” Sidorski said. “I couldn’t keep up with the pace Marianne set on a Saturday at Costco. I would ask her, ‘Why do you need a half-gallon of mustard with a pump nozzle, or 14 avocados?’ But she did.”
In telling her sons what she wanted at her service, she insisted all the food come from Costco, and they complied.
Sidorski praised the care she received from her sons in the last months of her illness.
“Their love and attention was a blessing,” he said.
Alan Matheson, Dean Emeritus, called Marianne “unflappable, hardworking, committed, loyal, generous to a fault, and a proud and wonderful mother and grandmother.”
He recalled looking out his window at Armstrong Hall one afternoon and seeing Marianne standing in the rain at the intersection stymied by a large puddle that had formed in front of the crosswalk.
“A student came up and swept her up in his arms to carry her across,” Matheson said. “She would have nothing to do with it and continued to protest until he set her back down. She plowed forward on her own, and it is symbolic of her courage and grace.”