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To Do Justice To Her Memory

By Desirée Abilene Murphy
The Daily Apocrypha Staff

I first met Carrie Marilyn Rothwell in 1994. I was following up on a national story about the introduction of technology into schools for the educationally disadvantaged, and Rothwell was working as a teacher's aide for a classroom of mentally handicapped children. I interviewed the lead teacher in the classroom, but I remember Rothwell, quietly assisting the children with art projects and giving hugs when the tasks proved overly demanding for their spirits. She's there in the blurry background of some of the photographs we took at the school, the gentle smile on her lips calling to mind the sound of her soft voice.

I didn't know her name then, but I recognized her face when The Daily Apocrypha ran a story a couple of years later about Rothwell being tapped for an administrative post with the Calcott Foundation. Right away it sounded odd to me, because moving from teacher's aide to leading one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations was an inconceivable leap in two years. It took a few carefully hoarded favors, but I managed to get an interview with Rothwell, then another, and three weeks later my research uncovered the fact that she was the heir to the Calcott fortune.

She wasn't angry when I asked her about it, point-blank. Instead, she seemed a little wearied by it, as if the prospect of millions of dollars at her disposal was some odious chore. Rothwell did ask that I consider not running the story about her inheritance, and she laid out her reasons for me.

When she was done, I thought about her request. Finally I made a deal with Carrie Marilyn Rothwell: I would trade the quick-and-easy news story about her inheritance for her agreement to continuing interviews leading to a biography of her life. She laughed, an easy and delighted spill of laughter, and we sealed our bargain with mugs of instant cocoa with little marshmallows.

That woman led a complex and fascinating life, and I will always treasure my memories of the interviews she granted. Some interviewees try to 'edit' their accounts of their lives, to spruce them up for public review, but Rothwell was not shy about detailing her own failings and disappointments. Her patience and intelligence were astounding and exceeded only by her generous spirit. I'm not ashamed to say that I cried when I heard that she had died when a driver too busy with his cellphone had lost control of his vehicle and forced her car into the concrete supports of a highway underpass.

I'd like to think that the spirit of Carrie Marilyn Rothwell somehow knows of the recent Supreme Court verdict that upheld the directions in her will and her stipulations for endowments to various organizations. A money-hungry organization that continues to flatter itself as an educational concern attempted to have part of Rothwell's will overturned in its favor, and had won in lower court rulings in the matter. The deal we toasted with watery cocoa and marshmallow froth turned into more than just a literary accommodation, it provided proof of her final wishes. I was proud to offer as evidence the hours of video footage and audio recordings of our interviews to the Justices of the Idaho Supreme Court, and even prouder to share with them a few anecdotes about Ms. Rothwell herself. At the end, the Court did justice to her memory, by letting her intent and wishes stand.

I am a better person for having known her. The world is a better place for her presence.


Desirée Abilene Murphy was the recipient of the 1997 Frydecker Award for Excellence in Broadcast and Print Journalism, and is currently working on "Imparting Hope: A Biography of Carrie Marilyn Rothwell." Her opinion column appears regularly in The Daily Apocrypha.

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