Marjorie Huxley Silver, 81, UMCP spokeswoman

March 21, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Marjorie Huxley Silver, the raspy-voiced, cigarette-wielding spokeswoman for the University of Maryland at College Park during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, died Thursday of kidney failure at Southern Maryland Hospital in Clinton. She was 81 and lived in Clinton.

During the Vietnam War era -- when student disturbances regularly disrupted traffic on U.S. 1, university buildings were occupied and the Maryland National Guard arrived on campus to maintain order in the wake of the Kent State University shootings in 1970, it was the indefatigable Mrs. Silver who had to answer reporters' questions about campus policy or obtain reaction from the university's often-embattled administrators.

"After Kent State, all hell broke out," said John M. Purnell of Washington, a semiretired journalist who was a member of the university news bureau staff in 1970. "They were stressful times and Margie always had to walk this delicate line between the reporters and university administration. She was battle-scarred but was always right in the middle.

"She could mollify the press and at the same time maintain her credibility with reporters, the administration and students. And even though she was a flack, she considered herself a journalist and that's they way she ran the news bureau."

A short, stocky woman with curly hair who was perpetually wreathed in cigarette smoke, Mrs. Silver was an outspoken liberal, feminist and pacifist who favored the underdog.

Mrs. Silver, who once cracked, "If we ever have peace, the males would get bored," relished her role as liaison among the university, students and reporters. She was so busy during those years that her home had four telephones to handle incoming press calls.

From her office, which at times resembled a literary salon, Mrs. Silver sat contentedly dragging on menthol cigarettes while bantering with reporters.

"She could be imposing and tough when she had to be, with that Boston accent and cigarette which she waved in the air, but she never screamed," Purnell said. "However, she could throw a glare when needed."

In an interview, Mrs. Silver said, "I've worked 44 years in a man's world. I won't play dirty, but you have to know jungle warfare."

"She was really one of those administrators who was particularly easy to get along with during those times," said James P. Day, a former editor of the University of Maryland's Diamondback who is The Sun's assistant production manager. "Marge was always very friendly and helpful and did a wonderful job."

Born Marjorie Huxley in Boston, she was the daughter of a pianist and a relative of famed British novelist Aldous Huxley. She had read 500 books by the time she was 11, family members said, and remained a voracious reader all her life.

She had her first byline when she was 15, and while attending Lawrence High School in Falmouth, Mass., earned 10 cents an inch contributing school news to the Falmouth Enterprise. After graduating in 1936, she worked in Boston as a stenographer while writing and selling stories to local newspapers and McClure's Syndicate.

She attended Harvard University and American University but did not earn degrees.

During World War II, she was a secretary for Moore-McCormack Steamship Lines, and married Dwight L. Silver in 1947.

After her divorce, she "wrote gags for a Collier's cartoonist to pay the milk bill," and worked in the Washington bureau of Fairchild Publications and Capital Cities Broadcasting Corp. She went to work at UM in the mid-1960s.

She retired in 1975 and moved to a 20-acre farm near Fresno, Calif., but returned to Maryland in 1991.

In a 1981 interview, she told the Fresno (Calif.) Bee: "I smoke two packs a day, drink what I want and never sleep enough. I hate to waste time sleeping."

Writing on her well-worn Royal typewriter, Mrs. Silver began composing her obituary in 1966, and periodically updated it over the years. She imagined her death was caused by "more than two decades of nervous strain or from lung cancer caused by smoking two packs of cigarettes for more than 40 years."

She wrote: "I wanted to set down what small triumphs and gains I had been able to accomplish in one short lifetime."

Services will be private.

She is survived by two sons, Wesley F. Silver of Brandywine and Lawrence H. Silver of Lothian; a sister, Marion E. Robinson of Braintree, Mass.; and three grandchildren.

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