colleagues, students, friends

LU AS CAMP INSTRUCTOR…….lu and I were friends and colleagues for many years.  My first encounter with her as a teacher was when I left administration to teach full-time in Hutchins.  She spent generous amounts of time with me, introducing me to the seminar-based approach that is the hallmark of the Hutchins School.

But my most memorable experience of lu as teacher came about in 2000 because she learned that I, at the ripe age of 66, had never been camping.  She was incredulous, and determined to remedy this sad situation.  Accordingly, she and Linda and I set off for some god-forsaken little-used campground somewhere in the Sierras.  Once there, I was told to erect my tent.  There was a good deal of precise verbal instruction, but nary a finger raised to help me.  Indeed, I felt that there was an insufficient amount of compassion sent as I struggled, and muttered, and struggled.  But then I was rewarded with a lovely campside dinner.  (The meals were great, of course.)

However, there were the nights to get through.  Linda and lu were safe and warm inside the RV.  I was left to struggle into a sleeping bag inside a teeny tent, and, when nature called, to struggle out of it to get to a so-called toilet (swearing and wondering about bears).

But the worst was yet to come–after the second day, I had to dismantle the damn tent, and I, a most fastidious person, emerged from that struggle covered with dust and leaves and other unnnamables.  All of this was dutifully documented by Linda.  A few weeks later, they presented me with a photographic account of this memorable event, together with a Hutchins-style evalutaion which began:

“Ardath was the only remedial student….enrolled in our basic camping course this term.”

In spite of this inauspicious beginning, the evaluation concluded by awarding me CREDIT!

And I am left with the memories of a very interesting, and yes, wonderful experience.

Thanks, lu!  Along with all of her students, I treasure my memories of her.

Ardath Lee


As for me, Lu Mattson is as cherished a colleague and friend as I shall ever enjoy and respect.  Brilliant as was her mind, it was the least of her: her courageous honesty, her absolute refusal to compromise what she deemed right, her tickling ready wit, her perceptive compassion, her active generosity to all, and her unflagging loyalty to her friends made her a woman among women.  I count myself blessed to have had her for my inspiration and example, professionally and personally.

–Yvette Fallandy


We are all so lucky she passed our way, during our lifetime. Her teachings, in our memory, make her live forever in our minds and hearts. May she be at peace, now.

–Peter Wodinsky


I’m sure we all feel this but Lu was the single most profound influence on my life and not just in terms of scholarship or even teaching but also in her sense of humor, wonder at the world and all of us in it, and love of adventure.

–Marilyn Olivia


While I have myriad memories of Lu, one comes to mind which captures some of the experience of the early days at Hutchins, and of Lu.  It must have been in the very early 70’s when one of the lower division courses (102 or 201) was dealing with comparative religions.  We were studying Judaism in the spring and since Passover was coming up, I suggested putting on a Seder for the students.  (This was in the pre-Experiencing History days, but was an early example of a kind of simulation.)  Lu loved the idea (perhaps it appealed in some way to her Catholic roots since the Last Supper was probably a Passover dinner) and leaped into the preparations with her typical energy.  So I remember vividly a Hutchins Seder for 50 or 60 students and faculty held in the hall of a Petaluma Synagogue where we all recounted the Exodus story, discussed the mythical and real meaning of this first recorded ‘war of liberation,’ and talked about the significance of ritual, all while drinking cups of wine, recounting the plagues, Pharaoh’s hardheadedness, and of course enjoying a typical Hutchins potluck.  I believe Lu was also heavily involved in making potato pancakes (latkes), which are traditional.  It was truly interdisciplinary, interdenominational and experiential learning at its best.  And it was fun–which was something Lu also loved.  Since these were also the days of Vietnam and Nixon and a repressive time in America, ‘liberation’ had great and personal significance for each of us, and we learned a great deal about how to celebrate it together.

–Les Adler


It’s funny, I realized I never actually took a class from Lu having transferred as a junior to Hutchins and missing her teaching the lower division seminar, but somehow I always felt I had, given our many conversations and interactions over the years. Perhaps it was that special quality she brought to being in conversation with her — both in the deep way she’d listen and in the sense of exploration and excitement she brought to talking about ideas; to thinking about the world and her experience of it. But remembering her what sticks with me is not just her intellectual spark and curiosity but her kindness and empathy; her laughter and her heart. Realizing I won’t have another chance to experience her rare combination of head and heart again, I feel deep sadness — and also deep gratitude for the gift of having known her. I will miss her and I send my love and good wishes to those of you mourning her.

–John Esterle


Please let Linda and Lu’s family know that she is an important and very much loved and appreciated part of my life.  As a mentor and educator, she encouraged me to seek new horizons and expand my experience.  As a kindred spirit, we are riding the wind as fast and as far as we can go….

–Amanda Gohl


Dear Lu,

You taught me to write and not to use the word ‘very’, ……..and I think of you every time that I do.

You taught me to throw a sentence away if I have to rewrite it more than twice, …..and I think of you every time that I do.

I remember you always saying, “Bet ya dollars to donuts” when making your point, —-and I use it sometimes just to remember you.

I thank you very, very much for everything you taught me.

You told me that the worst thing about living alone was eating while standing up, leaning over the kitchen sink, ……and I think of you every time that I do.

I will miss you very, very much.

–Dennis Moss


The Hutchins Years

Professor MaryLu Mattson taught in the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University from 1970 until her retirement in 1992.   One of the original faculty members hired to help create the new School’s interdisciplinary curriculum, Dr. Mattson brought a wide-ranging background including a B.S. degree in bacteriology and chemistry from Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, an M.A. in English from UCLA and a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Southern California, as well as teaching experience at California State College, Los Angeles.

At Sonoma State Dr. Mattson quickly established herself as a trusted faculty leader, serving in the Academic Senate, as Campus Coordinator of Computer Assisted Instruction, a member of the Vice President’s Council, as elected Chair of the Division of Cluster Schools and as Provost of the Hutchins School.  Academically, having published an important book on the subject, ” Help Yourself: A guide to the Writing and Rewriting of College Papers,” she contributed special expertise in teaching expository and creative writing across the Hutchins curriculum.  Drawing on her background in both the sciences and humanities, she led in the design and teaching of broad, team-taught undergraduate courses as well as upper division seminars in her areas of special interest including “Censorship in the Arts,” “Masterpieces of the Humanities” and “The Irrational in the Western Tradition.”

A skilled seminar leader, Professor Mattson modeled intellectual curiosity and openness to new ideas and pedagogical approaches with a strong critical sensibility and an absolute commitment to high standards and effective student learning.

Sara Vurek, a former student, described herself as feeling “blessed to be among the fortunate lives she touched and enriched.”  Colleagues, as well, recognized her both for her dedication to teaching and for her ability to work collaboratively in creating a nationally-recognized model of liberal learning.  Describing Lu Mattson as “a wonderful colleague, and a person of great depth and kindness,” Dr. Michael Coleman added that that “I am happy and honored to have worked with her for 18 years.”

After her retirement, Dr. Mattson continued researching and writing, culminating most recently in the publication of what she described as a creative “literary non-fiction” study of California’s last Indian War:  “Shaman’s Dream: The Modoc War.”

Les Adler, Emeritus Professor, Hutchins School

Lectureship at CSULA

Don’t know why this has been so hard.   When I came back to college after a break of a couple of years, I discovered that I had been in the wrong major.  English was what I came back to, and Lu Mattson was one of the instructors who got me excited about the world of reading and writing–indeed, language itself.  Approachable, encouraging, supportive, Lu’s own enthusiasm about literature was infectious and delightful.  After graduating from Cal State Los Angeles, it was amazing that Lu and I ended up at the Hutchins School at Cal State Sonoma at the same time–Lu to offer her wonderful classes to students, I to work as secretary in the office.  Unfortunately, it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen Lu, and I am very sorry to have missed the last opportunity. I’ll always remember her and her part in my life.  Thanks for everything, Lu.

Sara Armstrong, Ph.D.

The Pendragon

In the tiny village of South Cadbury in Somerset, England, visitors to the local pub can find a picture of Lu in a framed newspaper article displayed on the wall.  It was summer 1967 and we were volunteer amateur archeologists at an excavation supposed to find King Arthur’s Camelot—the perfect vacation for English majors.  We stayed on a tiny combination dairy farm/b & b.  The dig drew interesting people vacationing as volunteers; one was Elma Mitchell, soon to be recognized as an important British poet.  Elma was a true English eccentric: a conscientious objector during WW II London, when we met she lived in a thatched cottage and kept a small flock of sheep, and she introduced us to change ringing (a particular English art of ringing church bells).  Elma came to the U.S. a few years later, and Lu brought her to Hutchins for a reading.

After a couple of weeks on foot in rural Somerset Lu declared, “I’m from California; I need wheels,” and we hiked to a local mechanic and bought a Lambretta scooter with two saddle seats and a tiny cargo shelf.  We named it the Pendragon.  In August rain began in earnest, and we put on yellow slickers (the kind high school crossing guards used to wear), stashed our single change of clothes and other goods in a fishing creel bungeed to the back of the scooter, and set off for France, stopping on the way at Salisbury for a look at Magna Carta.

The ferry from Southampton took us to Cherbourg, and we made our way along Normandy beaches with familiar names like Omaha and Utah, then got lost inside the labyrinth of Mont St Michel, racing back along the causeway minutes ahead of in-coming tide.  Brittany, the Loire Valley, the Dordogne, Carcassone, the Riviera…those days spent motoring south on the back roads of the French countryside remain in memory as an enchanted time.  Morning shopping got us a bottle of wine and a packet of local cheese to put in the basket, with a baguette that we strapped on top; we could eat lunch in a park or on a bench in front of a local church.  No one believed we were Americans.  We stopped for intended or serendipitous treasures: the Bayeux tapestry, the museum on the estate of the Toulouse-Lautrec family with lithograph stones on display, a Picasso museum.  Eventually we came to the Italian border, and since the Divine Comedy had been central to our undergraduate education went on to Florence.  The search for Dante was difficult: most of the city’s treasures had been damaged in the previous year’s flood and could not be seen.  A high point for Lu was the historical marker on the house where Benvenuto Cellini had cast the head of Medusa; she had read his account in the Autobiography, and years later experimented with bronze casting of her own sculpture.

Our route back to London took us by ferry to Corsica, then France again, up through Burgundy and Rheims and the ferry to Dover, not forgetting to stop at Canterbury in salute to Chaucer.  I stayed in London long enough to help her find a bed-sit and get my first grant check so I could fly back.  One day we stepped into a small antiquarian shop on Fleet Street; the proprietor showed us a drawer of prints, and we bought a set of the Hogarth political series, pulled from the original copper plates.  We had to split the cost, so each of us kept two of the four, trading about from time to time in the ensuing years.  When I got married, Lu gave me the two that she had at that time as a wedding present.  Lu spent the winter motoring in the Pendragon to and from the libraries and records offices, getting to know more than anyone else knew about the history of English censorship.

Helen Jaskoski

graduate programs and their discontents

“Thank you, Helen for Lu’s obit. I have very sweet memories of meeting you and Lu at the Partridge Rd complex in Palo Alto. You two were the most interesting and accomplished women I had ever met to that date. It sounds like Lu lived an incredibly full life spanning several disciplines and careers. She was a true Renaissance woman. So sorry she is gone.   My Sincere Condolences, Eva”

allá en las plantas

San Miguel de Allende was one of Lu’s favorite places.  Her first visit was in the summer of 1965, which found us in medias res and broke.  Lu learned of an art institute in central Mexico where we could take courses in art, language and culture.  It was cheaper to travel in Mexico than to live in California, and we set off in her vintage Plymouth, stopping for a visit with my family in Tucson and crossing the border at Nogales.  Travel in Mexico was very different then: there was no “berlin wall” at the border; a driver’s license sufficed for i.d.  We were warned at many points about dangerous bandidos, but they were always in some other part of Mexico.

The art institute was a treasure.  Lu produced her first lithograph and sculpted the head of a young boy, ultimately making a plaster cast.  Lectures in Mexican history and culture introduced us to colloquios, folk dramas like English mystery plays.  Lu learned of a colloquio to be performed in a nearby village, and she decided this could be a scholarly project (basically for me, since I knew Spanish and she did not).  We tracked down a prompt copy of the script, handwritten in fading green ink in an old ledger book, and dutifully typed out the totally phonetic Spanish prose.  On the church’s feast day we drove out to see the play.  The village consisted of a few adobe houses along cobbled or unpaved streets, a cantina, a bodega, and a monumental Spanish colonial church.  At a certain point we needed a restroom, and I asked an elderly woman at the edge of the crowd, “¿Donde está una damas?”   (Where is a ladies’ room?)  She looked puzzled, so I tried “toileta?”  She stepped back, rolled her eyes, nodded in the direction of a nearby field of maguey, and intoned, “allá en las plantas” (basically, “out in the tules”).  We did actually find a better location.  For years after that, when it was a question of primitive accommodation, the word was “allá en las plantas.”

Lu returned many times to San Miguel, especially in the years when she lived in Glorieta and could easily drive straight down through central Mexico.  She bought a small condo and made friends in the expatriate community, considering a permanent move to Mexico before deciding to return to northern California.

Helen Jaskoski

Biomedical Research

When the UCLA School of Medicine was in its infancy in the 1950s, its first National Institutes of Health research grant established the UCLA Hematology Research Laboratory directed by William N. Valentine, M.D.  His first cadre of research technologists was comprised of several unique individuals with eclectic credentials that included Marylu Mattson.  Their studies of blood cell metabolism in health and disease were eventually responsible for identifying over half of the enzyme deficiency states now known to cause hereditary and acquired forms of hemolytic anemia in humans and animals.  This not only established an international reputation for the Laboratory but led to Dr. Valentine’s election to the National Academy of Sciences and his nomination for a Lasker Medical Science Award, the so-called “pre-Nobel”.

Lu’s simultaneous pursuit of a doctoral degree in English literature did not deter her from mastering the arcane language of enzyme biochemistry, and she was equally meticulous and insightful at the laboratory bench as she was in the literature archives of academe.  She developed into a highly sophisticated experimentalist who contributed far more than technical expertise.  Lu’s work was instrumental in identifying and characterizing the first kindreds afflicted with pyruvate kinase deficiency, worldwide the second most common hereditary enzyme defect associated with hemolytic anemia.

Her ability to work creatively in such disparate fields set her apart and reflected her wide-ranging curiosity and intellectual capacities.   Her interest and accomplishments in multiple fine arts media were a similar reflection of her multifaceted intelligence, and she even became a periodic resident of the art colony at San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.  More recently, even in retirement, she was actively mediating the early stages of a potential academic affiliation between the Mendocino Art Center and the Art Department of her beloved Sonoma State University.

Those of us who had the great good fortune to love her as friend and work with her as esteemed colleague will perhaps most fondly remember her engaging unpretentious nature, her quick wit and subtle sense of humor, and her remarkable equanimity, even when working under arduous circumstances.  It is particularly devastating to lose her after so recently reuniting.

I especially missed Lu this week as I installed a sculpture for the Marine Wildlife Invitational Exhibition at the Mendocino Art Center where I rendezvoused with her and Linda last year.  This was the first piece I had completed utilizing many of our old lab’s micropipettes that became obsolete with the advent of disposable plastic alternatives.  Their inherent beauty, as well as the historical connection, always prevented me from discarding them.  I have asked the Art Center to cite it in dedication to Lu’s memory.

Donald E. Paglia, M.D., Principal Investigator, UCLA Hematology Research Laboratory, UCLA School of Medicine.

Benthic Bricolage-1