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Marilyn Joyce Sanford

Marilyn J. Sanford, loving wife and mother of three children and three grandchildren, passed away peacefully in Seattle, Washington, on February 14, 2024, Valentine’s Day. Her granddaughter, Campbell, said that she died on Valentine’s Day because she had such a big heart. She passed surrounded by love, with family by her side in her beautiful apartment at Aegis Ravenna. Marilyn, age 83, had chronic lymphocytic leukemia as well as cerebellar atrophy, a degenerative balance disorder. 

Marilyn was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1940, to Ralph and Mary Margaret (Dice) Wilmore. She had very fond memories of spending summers visiting her grandparents, June and Mark Dice in Elgin, Illinois, as well as visiting her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Clements Bird, who lived to be 100 years old. Marilyn credited her grandmother, June, with her interest in democratic politics and genealogy. She credited her great-grandmother, Elizabeth, with her interest in history and her Quaker heritage.

Marilyn attended Oberlin College and Case-Western Reserve University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In 1962, she married Thomas Sanford, an Oberlin classmate and the love of her life. She appreciated his “can do” spirit and scientific mind. After marrying, they moved from Boston to West Falmouth, Massachusetts, where they raised their children, James, Cynthia, and Craig, along with making lifelong friends. 

Marilyn possessed a strong inner compass and quiet conviction. She was a lifelong Quaker and believed in the goodness in everyone. She said each person has a story and a struggle and does the best they can. Marilyn was a member of the historic Quaker Meeting in West Falmouth, where she counseled young men who were seeking conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. 

While in Falmouth, Marilyn became active with the League of Women Voters. She was passionate about fair housing and was appointed in 1972 by the Governor of Massachusetts to the Falmouth Housing Authority as an advocate for low income housing.

Marilyn worked as a pediatric nurse for hospitals in Cleveland and Boston, and in Falmouth as a volunteer advocating for reproductive health. She said she liked pediatric nursing because children always looked at the best side of things (“it’ll get better, won’t it?”).

In 1979, the family moved to Seattle, Washington, when Tom joined the faculty of the University of Washington as a Principal Oceanographer. Marilyn worked at the Adolescent Clinic at the University of Washington and then became a school nurse. Marilyn worked for the Edmonds and Shoreline School Districts as a school nurse for 19 years. She retired in 2003 to spend more time with grandchildren, who fondly remember cooking and storytelling with her.

Marilyn and Tom enjoyed bringing family together for vacations, including for their 50th anniversary celebration at Lake Chelan and 9 years of Christmas trips with extended family. Marilyn’s “happy place” was the cottage that she and Tom purchased on Camano Island, Washington, in 1992. She enjoyed spending weeks at a time gardening, bird watching, writing poems, painting, and hosting family and friends. The same Camano cottage will stay in the family and remain a gathering place for decades to come.

Marilyn knew how to bring out the best in people and how to encourage and accept people for who they are. Friends described her as a “glass three-quarters full” kind of person. She lived her life ethically and supported others in good health. She was peaceful, genuine, thoughtful, patient, modest, generous, caring, and a bit idealistic. She had an adventurous spirit, living with her family in Germany, gunkholing in the waters of the San Juan and Gulf Islands, and traveling in Europe and Mexico.

With the exception of medicine for an occasional illness, Marilyn was proud of the fact that she lived comfortably without needing medication until a few weeks before her passing. She possessed a quiet courage, adapting gracefully to her balance disorder that was diagnosed when she was 68. She did not shun the walker but embraced it. In her 70s, she routinely took her off-road walker out for birdwatching near Camano Island.

Marilyn is preceded in death by her husband of 58 years and parents. Marilyn is survived by her sister Sara, brother Phillip, her children, James, Cynthia, and Craig, son-in-law Chris, and three grandchildren, Elliot, Oliver, and Campbell.

The family plans a private family gathering to celebrate Marilyn’s life. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Planned Parenthood or a similar reproductive health care organization.


Marilyn was a wonderful cousin and kept us connected through the years with thoughtful birthday and holiday notes always sprinkled with wry humor and wisdom.

Anita C Fonte

Marilyn will be missed by many whose lives she touched in the many places she has lived and worked in her long life. She was calm and loving and always found the good in everyone. Marilyn was a quiet dynamo.
I first met Marilyn and Ton at Oberlin College in 1958 and enjoyed a growing friendship with them in Boston, Woods Hole and Seattle. I loved them both and I miss them.

Steve Steury

I was fortunate to meet Marilyn and Tom in 1970 in Woods Hole , Massachusetts.
We became marvelous friends, sharing many days with our children and helping one another in the social care of the community of Falmouth and Woods Hole. Our association persisted over the rest of our lives although we lived on opposite ends of the USA. I have been privileged to know this caring and exceptional woman for so many years. May she rest in peace.

Christine Harvey

I met Marilyn on the 4th floor of our dorm for student nurses in Cleveland and we stayed close friends afterwards. I mailed her my maternity uniforms soon after my first baby was born April 2nd 1965. Mike and I visited a few times in Falmouth since Mike's mother lived in Boston. Then we stayed in touch over the years mostly with Christmas letters. Year before last, we emailed, and did not that last year because of changes in her health.

Student nurses learn to give back rubs, and we gave each other back rubs especially when studying for exams! She was an excellent student, We usually ate at the hospital cafeteria together with some other classmates.

The first year she was married she gave me her recipe for hamburger soup! I think it is still in my recipe box.

I will miss her and have many happy memories of our friendship.

Pat Hunt Wald

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