Parsons alumna Marcia Wallace dies
Native Iowan and Parsons College Class of 1964 graduate, Marcia Wallace, died Friday in Los Angeles, at age 70.
She is perhaps best known for her four decades on television, from portraying Carol Kester, the sarcastic secretary on “The Bob Newhart Show,” in the 1970s and since its 1990 premier, as the voice of Bart Simpson’s teacher, Edna Krabappel.
Her career included numerous TV appearances, movie and stage roles, authoring a book and advocating for breast cancer awareness.
As noted in 2009 when Wallace was inducted to the Parsons Wall of Honor in Fairfield, she “brought a friendly smile to Parsons, made people laugh, and put down the foundation for an outstanding career as a stage and screen performer.”
Fellow Parsons College classmate Ann Johnson Tash spent many years of friendship with Wallace.
Wallace was born and raised in Creston; Tash was from Princeton, Ill., and the two women met at Parsons in Fairfield.
“We’ve been in touch all of our lives since college,” said Tash Monday by phone. “We were in different sororities at Parsons, but both of us were in theater classes and performed in summer musicals and several plays together at Parsons.”
Wallace belonged to the Delta Chapter of Delta Zeta Sorority and was Delta Zeta’s 2009 Woman of the Year.
As upperclassmen, Tash, Wallace and a handful of other Parson students did student teaching in Keokuk.
“We lived in Keokuk for our student teaching. We were put up in some lovely Victorian homes,” said Tash. “We’d travel back and forth to Fairfield as needed.
“The rest of us all loved teaching and went into education. We wanted to do well at student teaching, but Marcia didn’t like teaching, didn’t like the kids and all she wanted was to earn the certificate and graduate,” said Tash. “It was already apparent she’d make it in the world of performing.
“We had great fun in Keokuk and college,” she said. “Parsons was a great place in the ’60s, and we all have great fondness for it and were sad when it closed.”
After graduation, Wallace went east, and Tash went west.
“Marcia went to New York City with $150,” said Tash. “She got started there. I’ve lived in LA since leaving Parsons.
“Marcia moved to LA just before ‘The Bob Newhart Show,’ in the early 1970s,” she said. “I ran into her at one of the theaters. Two more Parsons graduates, Nancy and Lynn, live out here and the four us met together about once a month for lunch.”
Wallace loved picking the restaurant and meeting with her Parsons girlfriends, said Tash.
“Lunch was her favorite meal, she loved to eat,” said Tash. “She’d choose the best restaurants and everywhere we’d go, people would recognize her, and she was always gracious and patient with people who would come up to her.”
Wallace, who beat breast cancer in the mid-80s, married Dennis Hawley in May 1986 and the couple adopted an infant son, Michael Hawley.
“She started becoming ill again about two years ago,” said Tash. “I saw her on a weekly basis. She lived in Redondo Beach, and I live in West Hollywood, it’s not too far away. I would drive her on errands and to appointments. She was able to remain living independently until near the end.
“When she married Dennis, she invited her college friends to the wedding,” said Tash. “It was the greatest wedding I’ve ever attended. The reception was at one of Dennis’s hotels in Long Beach, and I’d never been to such a star-studded event. Bob Newhart was there, Jo Anne Worley, and cast members from ‘The Love Boat,’ Marcia had played in several episodes of ‘The Love Boat.’
“And Marcia was a beautiful bride, she was stunning and radiated beauty,” said Tash. “Dennis died five years later. Her son and her sister are her only family members left. There’ll be a big memorial out here in a couple of weeks, coordinated by ‘The Simpsons’ people.”
Des Moines resident Susan Voss also remembers attending Wallace’s 1986 California wedding.
“My mom, Charlotte Lamb, was the sorority house advisor at Parsons and the women loved her,” said Voss. “Whenever Marcia performed shows in the Midwest, our family would attend. We were invited to her wedding.
“It was a great wedding,” said Voss. “By that point in time, Marcia was a practicing Buddhist and the wedding was at Lake Cucamonga and the reception was in Long Beach. Lots of TV personalities attended, it was a great reception.
“Marcia loved Fairfield and Parsons College,” said Voss. “I got to introduce her into the Parsons Wall of Honor in 2009. She’d been back to Iowa several times, speaking about breast cancer and experiences in aging.
“She performed in the ‘Vagina Monologues’ in Iowa City and it was funny because she was worried about saying vagina and some of the other words in front of my mom, because of course we attended,” said Voss.
“When my older brother was married in California, we visited Marcia, too.”
Voss asked Wallace to be a spokeswoman for financial aging issues in the last few years.
“She was interested, but she was already struggling with her health in the last 18 months,” said Voss. “She told me when she had more energy, she’d be glad to help. In one of our last few conversations, she told me, ‘Getting old sucks.’”
Wallace’s LA friend, Tash, said the lunch foursome all celebrated their 70th birthdays together at lunch this past year.
“Marcia would have been 71 on Friday,” said Tash. “She had a lot of fun selecting extravagant restaurants we would never have gone to, and loved to laugh and talk.”
Wallace was attending recording sessions for “The Simpsons” as recently as six months ago, said Tash.
“She became totally disabled about three months ago,” she said. “I understand she died from complications from pneumonia. ‘The Simpsons’ people didn’t know she was ill and will now retire her character.
“As a cancer survivor, Marcia was very involved with the wellness community and she traveled, advocating for wellness and health and survivors up until four months ago,” said Tash. “She was a very generous person.
“I just learned recently that after she went to New York with that $150 and landed on her feet, she sent $100 to one of four LA friends, Nancy. She sent Nancy $100 to also come to New York and live with her to help Nancy get a start.
“She was very generous and never lost touch with her college friends.”
Tash attended this summer’s Parsons Wall of Honor reunion.
“I loved it,” she said. “I love the little museum there in Fairfield. All of us felt such a connection at Parson and are grateful for our education there.”
Fairfield resident David Neff graduated from Parsons College in 1969.
“I totally missed the years Marcia attended, because she graduated the spring before I arrived in the fall,” said Neff.
“I met her in 2009 when she was inducted into the Wall of Honor,” he said. “She’s very bubbly and straight forward. She dealt with things in a forthright manner. She was a very charming lady.”