Dorothy Medin, caring matriarch and chef, dies at 90

05/17/2012

Dorothy Medin, a real-life Rosie the Riveter, longtime Vladimir’s chef and devoted great-great-grandmother who always put her family, animals and garden first, passed away on April 16 at age 90. She spent her final days in the Inverness home she shared with her children and grandchildren for more than half a century.

Nestled amid tranquil pines and blooming blue carpets of forget-me-nots, the house the Medins built by hand in 1957 was home to four generations. There, Dorothy was content caring for her cats, dogs and chickens, planting flowers and feeding birds, deer and squirrels from bags of seed she insisted on hauling herself until the last weeks of her life.

Born Dorothy Louise Eldred in Oakdale, Louisiana in 1922, she was the middle child of five. The Eldred family moved several times while Dorothy was young, living in Pennsylvania and Alaska before settling in Washington State. Dorothy married Edward Medin when she was just 17, and gave birth to children Marty and Carolyn.  She was always a hard worker, and during World War II she got a job driving rivets into aircraft on the assembly line at a Boeing factory in Seattle.

In the early 1950’s, Dorothy and her family moved to El Cerrito. Ever eager to help and care for others, she attended nursing school and was given a position as a licensed vocational nurse at Brookside Hospital in Richmond, where she worked in pediatrics.

While Dorothy was good at taking care of everyone, she had a special knack for babies. For severe cases, doctors consulted their schedules to make sure that Dorothy was on when infants were recovering from surgery, as her caring and capable presence was enough to improve their chances.

“She had that intuition, that feeling for what someone needed, and what to do,” Carolyn said. “You didn’t have to be critically ill. She was attuned to everyone’s needs. She was a very compassionate person who always kind of knew what you were thinking, and what to do to help.”

When Carolyn and Marty where in high school, the family fell in love with Inverness during a fishing trip to Tomales Bay. After Edward was offered a job as a contractor nearby, they decided to build a home there. They lived in a temporary structure for three years while completing the house, and Dorothy mastered the art of cooking yeasted breads and cakes in the simple, uncalibrated wood stove. She knew just how much wood to add and how much time the ashes needed to heat in order to get the temperature just right—no small feat when making complicated baked goods.

“We had wonderful meals that were cooked on that stove,” Carolyn recalled. “She wanted to move it up to the main house!”

After family, cooking was her true passion. A gifted chef, Dorothy was known for throwing together whatever happened to be in the refrigerator to create a delicious meal. She could whip up a mean Cajun dish in honor of her Louisiana roots, and turn out the best fresh donuts anyone had ever tasted. Even her binders from nursing school were full of collected recipes.

In the mid 1960’s she became the chef at Vladimir’s restaurant, where she commanded the kitchen and knew every pot and pan.  A vivacious and energetic woman, she worked long hours and still managed to heap love and affection on her growing family and adored animals. Grandson Mark joked that the well-loved pets were “Gran-ified” and made fat by the ministrations of her brown sugar.

“It was just her way of loving. Have you ever heard of a border collie weighing 126 pounds?” he laughed.

In fact, her children and grandchildren alike remember her as someone who knew what a person needed even before they did—and was happy to provide it. Because she was so busy working during the war years when her own children were small, Dorothy lavished attention on her grandchildren, especially twins Mark and Terri, whom she referred to as “her babies” until the day she died.  When the twins were infants, she often kept them in bassinets on the kitchen counter so as to have them close while she prepared the family meals.

“Gran was our queen, our encyclopedia,” Terri said. “When it came to cooking, or needing to know anything, you just picked up the phone and called Gran. She knew everything.”

Described as an “armchair traveler” who loved her culinary shows and her cowboy movies, she was also an avid Inverness Garden Club member and an accomplished seamstress who “could make anything” on her antique Singer sewing machine.

“She used to cut out newspaper patterns for me,” Carolyn said. “I would try something on in the store, and she could draw a picture of it, maybe take a quick look at how it was put together, and then make it herself at home, while improving on it.”

Marty, now a retired Marin County fireman, said she was known to generations of Inverness residents simply as “Granny Medin.” Vladia Brooks, daughter of the eponymous Vladimir, remembered Dorothy as “an extremely kind lady” who looked after all the town’s kids like they were her own, using her nursing skills to patch them up after bicycle mishaps and other adolescent scrapes.

“Everybody loved Gran. You couldn’t help it,” Mark said.

The epitome of responsibility, Dorothy also knew how to have a good time. She indulged in the occasional cocktail by the pool when visiting Terri in Novato, and enjoyed parties at friends Ted and Maria McIsaac’s deer camp. “She wasn’t a prude,” Marty said fondly.

In the last year and a half of her life, Dorothy took great joy in the time she spent with Mark’s fiancée, Leona, and her three young daughters, Lily, Linea and Lyssa, who all lived in the house. She was happy that once again her home was filled with the joy and laughter of younger generations. Together they enjoyed excellent home cooking courtesy of Leona, fed apples to the local deer and spoiled Dorothy’s beloved last animal, a blind chicken named Helen, for Helen Keller.

“That last year and a half brought her so much life and love,” Mark said. “It was just awesome.”

Dorothy Medin is survived by her sister, Bettie Meisner of Peru, New York; son, Marty Medin of Inverness; daughter, Carolyn Mansuetti of South Carolina; granddaughter, Terri Medin Heying of Novato; grandson, Mark Medin, his fiancée, Leona, and her three girls Lily, Linea and Lyssa, of Inverness; grandchildren Michael Mansuetti and Julie Herlong; great-grandchildren Angella Tulette, Robert McEachern, Kim Heying, Robin Heying, Andrew Heying, Will Herlong, Lane Herlong, Robert Mansuetti and Mira Mansuetti; and great-great-grandchildren Jordan, Troy and Brody. She is preceded in death by parents Frank and Rose Eldred, husband, Edward Medin, and siblings William, Evelyn and Elbert.