Inverness’s civic-minded matriarch, Maidee Moore, dies at 101

07/31/2014

Judith Moore’s first memory is of her mother, Maidee, taking her to San Francisco for a peace march in 1950. They had to wear dresses and white gloves. Judith resented the dress, but agreed with her mother’s principles. “There I was at 5, already corrupted! I remember thinking these women were right,” Judith said in the Inverness home where her mother lived, first for weekends and summers, then full-time, for over 70 years.

Maidee, who was 101, passed away two weeks ago after an active century during which she remained committed to Inverness civic life, constantly raising money for local institutions with determination and verve.

“She had wide-ranging interests and a lot of energy and was irrepressibly friendly,” said friend Michael Mery.

She was born in Bremen, Germany, to a mother from Mississippi and a German father who had worked as an importer and exporter in the U.S. The family relocated to New York when she was 16, in 1929, when her native country was becoming inhospitable to Americans.

Soon after arriving Maidee met Joe Moore, a medical intern, at a party one evening. They were both young leftists who, Judith noted, were involved in the anti-Fascist movement. “They were kind of soul mates in that way,” she said.

They married in 1932, and when Joe finished his residency in Santa Barbara he joined the Public Health Service; he was stationed for a time in Atlanta, where he undertook rat control in factories.

Joe had attended medical school at the University of California, Berkeley, so he and Maidee eventually settled in the Bay Area. He worked at the first Kaiser hospital in Vallejo, but quit after he and other leftist doctors clashed with the founder about hiring African American interns. Joe ran a clinic in Napa for a year before establishing a private practice in Mill Valley.

The couple built their Inverness home in 1939 and spent weekends and summers there. It was, and still is, a simple wood cabin on the Inverness Ridge; the original plans called for cement, Judith said, but in the lead-up to the war many materials were unavailable, so the couple used local redwood trees. Back then, she added, there wasn’t even a separate bedroom; Maidee and Joe slept in a bed in the corner of the cabin, and when they had children, the youngsters slept on a screened-in porch. (Two bedrooms were eventually added.)

When Joe went off to serve in the war, tending to sailors at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Maidee decided that she and her two daughters at the time would stay in the cabin full-time, despite the fact that it had no telephone and no electricity. (Judith was born after the war, in 1945.) She felt safer there, according to Larken Bradley’s “Stories of West Marin,” for which the author interviewed Maidee a decade ago.

In the book, Maidee describes how during the war, local volunteers ran drills to prepare for an enemy landing on the coast. Since Maidee had a station wagon, she volunteered as the driver of a makeshift ambulance—though during one run, the patient slid out when she and her partner forgot to close the back doors. It took the pair a while to notice. They found the guy later, drinking coffee in front of a grocery store.

After the war, Maidee volunteered both in Mill Valley and Inverness for a number of  organizations. “She grew up in an era where, if you were married, you didn’t work. But she had all this energy and creativity and stuff going on in her head, so civic life was her outlet,” Judith said.

When the couple lived in Mill Valley, Maidee was engaged in social activism, though there weren’t always many outlets at the time. “In those days, the political things to do in Mill Valley as a wife and mother were not much,” Judith noted. But Maidee was involved in the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, and started the Mill Valley chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Her activism was part of a legacy that Judith traced back to Maidee’s maternal grandfather, a newspaperman who was considered a “fire-breathing radical” because he advocated for the education of African Americans after the Civil War.

But Maidee also struggled with the changing face of political activism. She didn’t understand the hippies—in particular, their experimentation with drugs—and didn’t believe they would be taken seriously. Her relationship with Judith, her youngest child, was strained when Judith skipped college to drive around the country with her dog and live on communes, though they became closer when Judith enrolled at Louisiana State University, around 1970.

It was about that time, after Maidee and Joe started living in Inverness year-round, that Maidee founded the Tomales Bay Waterdogs. She believed everyone who lived on the bay should learn to swim in the bay—and when Maidee got an idea in her head, she didn’t let it go easily. “She had ideas of how things should be,” Judith said. (A few of her ideas, like a fix-it shop for broken appliances, never got off the ground, though she never stopped feeling horrified at the growing culture of disposability. “That drove her crazy,” Judith said.)

Divisions between different communities in West Marin would not derail her plan to ensure that everyone along the coast could swim. Rebecca Porrata, a retired public health nurse, said that about three or four decades ago, she got a call from Maidee, who was concerned that the children of ranch workers weren’t taking lessons.

Rebecca often visited those families as part of her job, and Maidee wanted her to help with outreach. “[The program] really didn’t reflect all the people in the community, or the children, so she reached out to me. And you kind of didn’t say no to Maidee.”

The ranch families, which were largely Latino, took to the idea, but because the cost of the program was often prohibitive, the mothers started selling tostadas at the summertime Inverness Fair to raise money. It gave many of them visibility in the community, and it was a financial success; one year they made so much money that they didn’t know what to do with it, so Maidee and Rebecca asked Joe to hide it under the bed.

Rebecca’s daughters, who took swimming lessons on the bay, would often go over to Maidee’s for tea and cookies when they were younger. “I didn’t have family here, so she was like the abuela,” she said.

But Maidee wasn’t just a relentless fundraiser for the Waterdogs. With her friend Scotty Mendoza, she helped raise money for the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History and the Inverness Garden Club’s scholarship program. (Both Joe and Scotty died in 2008.)

That friendship also highlighted Maidee’s drive to close the gap between ranches and the rest of West Marin through personal relationships. “The fact that she and Scotty were tight for many years was always interesting to me, but it was very much my mother. She was always about building bridges and making connections,” Judith said.

She also raised money for groups like Smile Train and Doctors Without Borders. She would make canes or walking sticks topped with decorations like crafted birds, or a man’s head made of a kelp bulb complete with a top hat, and sell them at farmers markets. (Cindy Knabe, a close friend, remembers Maidee asking her to fetch her a kelp bulb from one of the beaches.)

Maidee attributed her longevity in large part to this active lifestyle. She and Joe also hiked regularly, and Maidee often walked from her home at the end of Perth to the top of Mount Vision to eat her breakfast, a fried egg sandwich. They traveled to France a number of times and, once, to Russia. (They were prevented from embarking on a long hiking adventure by suspicious Russians, who perhaps thought they were spies, Judith said.)

Even when it became difficult for her to get around, Maidee refused to stop moving. Roughly a decade ago, she pushed West Marin Senior Services to take seniors to Hearts Desire to swim, a program that continues to this day; volunteers help them walk across the sand and into the water.

Cindy, who became especially close with Maidee as a volunteer for the program, recalled Maidee’s ease in the bay. “Maidee was one who would hit the water and start her back crawl and turn over to do the front crawl. She was always so comfortable in the water.”

Judith, who for decades lived in New Orleans and Saint Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, moved back to the Bay Area and the family home in Inverness to help care for her mother. She is grateful for the time she spent with Maidee at the end of her life, ensuring Maidee could remain in the home she loved. “When I was younger, we had such a contentious relationship in those years when she thought I was bound for perdition, and I thought ‘Get over it,’ like every mother and daughter. But I’m so grateful that I came back from Saint Thomas when I did and I got to spend the end of my dad’s life with him and the end of my mom’s life with her. I got to be a good daughter, in the end.”

Still, Maidee was determined to do as much as she could on her own, for as long as she could. She had an outdoor walker fitted with a basket so she could garden and fill the bird feeders. Even when she was 100, Ms. Knabe said, she was planting bulbs, anticipating flowers for next spring.

 

Maidee is survived by her daughters, Judith Moore, Deedee Skinner and Susan Massad; her grandchildren, Christopher Skinner, Rachel Massad and Jessica Massad; and her longtime caregiver Maria Reynoso. She is preceded in death by her husband, Joe.