With heavy hearts, Thomas Aquinas College mourns the death of Marilyn McArthur, wife of the College’s late founding president, Dr. Ronald P. McArthur. Mrs. McArthur passed away at her home in Santa Paula on October 21, after receiving the Last Rites.
Born to Marie and Douglass Lawder on November 14, 1929, Marilyn grew up with her family in the Forest Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. She attended high school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart and college at the San Francisco College for Women. She met her future husband at a discussion group organized by her older sister, and the couple married soon after her graduation in 1950. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon driving to Quebec, Canada, where the groom pursued a doctorate at the Université Laval under the eminent Thomist Dr. Charles de Koninck.
When Dr. McArthur completed his studies, the couple returned to the United States. Mrs. McArthur made their home while her husband began a career teaching in the Bay Area, eventually settling into a position as a professor of philosophy at St. Mary’s College in 1958.
Over the ensuing years, Dr. McArthur and his colleagues, including Mark Berquist and Jack Neumayr, as well as his former student, Peter Deluca, regarded the spectacle of putatively Catholic education with mounting frustration. Mrs. McArthur recalled often providing a friendly ear for her husband’s exasperation. “When Ron would be upset about this or that, he would just throw up his hands and say, ‘I'm going to do something else; this isn’t education. It's not good,’” she recalled. “I would say, ‘But there isn’t anything else you can do!’ He would say, ‘Oh, I’ll be a carpenter!’ And I would say, ‘Ron, you can’t be a carpenter!’ There was nothing he could do that would mean anything.”
When this circle of friends decided to found Thomas Aquinas College and elected Dr. McArthur as its first president in 1971, he and Mrs. McArthur forsook their native San Francisco, moving to Southern California to establish the campus.
Just as Dr. McArthur was a father figure for the College’s first students, Mrs. McArthur provided a much-needed motherly presence on campus. “While Ron poured wine and tried to convince us that Mozart was really the only true composer of classical music, with a pound on the table for emphasis,” recalls one former student, “Marilyn would hand him a tray of cheese to pass around, then strike up a conversation with the girls gathering around her kitchen counter asking eager culinary questions and listening to stories about her beloved horses while she made the dinner. She listened to our chatter with a good-natured grin and an open ear.”
The McArthurs would serve as the College’s first couple for 20 years until Dr. McArthur retired in 1991. They then relocated, along with lifelong friend Cathy Walsh (’80), to a modest ranch in Northern California, where they kept six horses. Mrs. McArthur constantly sought new ways to live out the maternal role she had played at the College, opening the door of their home to parish study groups as well as planning, cooking, and serving meals for the local soup kitchen.
When Dr. McArthur returned to teach at the College in 2002, Mrs. McArthur set up what would become the couple’s final home, back in Santa Paula. Dr. McArthur fell ill in 2012, and Mrs. McArthur was at his side, caring for him until his death in 2013. Thereafter, she devoted herself to daily Mass at the College and a weekly Rosary beside her late husband’s grave, all the while continuing a life of hidden kindness, delivering meals to the elderly and praying the Rosary every Wednesday in front of the local Planned Parenthood.
“Marilyn McArthur was truly the First Lady of Thomas Aquinas College, a devoted, faithful wife to Ron through all the phases of his life, and the beloved matriarch of this community, especially in its formative years,” says President Paul J. O’Reilly (’84). “Her example of humble service inspired not only the faculty and students, but all she encountered. We pray that she and Ron are reunited once again at Our Lord’s heavenly banquet.”
Funeral Information: Saturday, November 12
Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, California campus
- 7:45 a.m. – Viewing
- 8:15 a.m. – Rosary
- 9:00 a.m. – Requiem Mass
Pierce Brothers Santa Paula Cemetery
St. Joseph Commons, California campus
- 12:30 p.m. – Luncheon Reception