Friends and family of Marilyn Oliver Pickett are remembering her this week as a woman of excellence and great strength. Pickett, a member of Baltimore’s famed Murphy family, died May 3 at the Holy Cross Hospital in Wheaton, Md., after succumbing to a series of protracted illnesses. She was 65.

“My fondest memories are of her spirit to overcome her painful health challenges she had been subjected to over the past four years, which included her strenuous battle to walk again,” recalled Pickett’s brother, John “Jake” Oliver, publisher of the Murphy family-owned AFRO American Newspapers.

The Rev. Dr. Marie Murphy Phillips Braxton, assistant pastor at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C., said she remembers her cousin as a mentor. During her summer visits to the Olivers’, “Snookie” was the sister she never had, Braxton added.

“It was great having someone to tag behind. She was a wonderful role model: smart, witty (she had the widest and most beautiful smile), talented and just fun to be around,” the minister said. She added, “Although we did not see one another often in adulthood, the loving bond that was established in our childhood was never broken. I shall always regret that my own illness prevented me from visiting before she made her transition to be with the Lord. However, I am certain that I will see her again.”

Pickett was born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on Sept. 15, 1946 to Marye Thompson Oliver, a teacher in the Baltimore City School System, and John J. Oliver Sr., a lifelong employee (and, at the time of his retirement, the president) of the AFRO American Newspapers.

A graduate of the John Eager Howard Elementary School #61, the Robert E. Lee #49 Accelerated Junior High School, and Eastern High School, all located in Baltimore, Pickett was an avid student, despite her extracurricular activities.

“She set an educational standard of excellence which was hard to match when we were young,” said Oliver, Pickett’s brother.

In addition to Brownie and Girl Scout Troops, Pickett was a member of the Stork Club, and Jack & Jill of America. In 1959, while in junior high school, she and a group of her acquaintances formed a club called Beaucoup de Mesdemoiselles. And in 1964, Marilyn was presented as a debutante at the prestigious Me-De So Club Cotillion.

Pickett was also an accomplished musician. She was taught to play the piano at an early age by AFRO music columnist Ada K. Jenkins. And, while in junior high school, she was also a student at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.

Her musical gifts often enlivened family gatherings, her brother said.

Pickett’s academic achievements extended into adulthood. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1967. She later earned a master’s in sociology from Howard University.

For 16 years, Pickett served as a technical information specialist and public health adviser at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Washington, D.C. During her tenure she contributed research and co-authored an analysis of some experiences of children of Black imprisoned mothers. Her tenure at NIH was ended by illness in 1997.

Throughout her illness, Pickett was supported by the “love of her life,” Limie Pickett, who she married in 1973 at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, the church where her mother and father had married 36 years earlier.

Pickett is survived by her husband; son, John Pickett; brother and a host of cousins.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to AFRO Charities in Memory of Marilyn O. Pickett.

The viewing will take place May 10 from 5-7 p.m. at March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave., Baltimore, Md.

The funeral will follow on May 11 with a family hour from 10:30–11:30 a.m., with the ceremony immediately after at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, 2100 Eutaw Place, Baltimore, Md.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO