Marion Lewenstein, Stanford professor of communication (teaching), emerita, and one of the first journalists to cover what would become known as Silicon Valley, died March 6 of complications of heart and circulatory disease at her home in Palo Alto. She was 93.

Marion Lewenstein (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Lewenstein joined Stanford as a teaching professor in 1975. In 1978, she was awarded a Dinkelspiel Award for outstanding service to undergraduate education. She also served as academic secretary of the Faculty Senate from 1991 to 1994.

At Stanford, Lewenstein specialized in teaching basic journalism skills, but also taught journalism history and other courses.

“Marion Lewenstein was a pathbreaker,” said Jay Hamilton, the Hearst Professor of Communication in the School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S), chair of the Department of Communication and director of the Stanford Journalism Program. “She was an early tech journalist in Silicon Valley, and an early researcher of how people read news online. She excelled in the classroom and was integral to the establishment of the Rowland and Pat Rebele Journalism Internship Program, which has allowed hundreds of Stanford students across more than three decades to pursue reporting internships.”

Skillful journalist, dedicated teacher

Among her Stanford students was famed Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl. In 2002, Pearl was kidnapped and later beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan. When interviewed by the media about Pearl, Lewenstein said he possessed the ethics that make for a great journalist.

“You knew that [Pearl] was going to be a very persevering and thoroughgoing journalist,” she said. “I think all of us who knew him [understood] he was going to make his mark in the journalism world.”

Lewenstein was also a key supporter of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program at Stanford. She provided guidance for the program, which supports diverse journalists from around the world who are creating solutions to journalism’s most urgent problems, throughout its 54-year history, according to Dawn Garcia, John S. Knight Journalism fellowships director.

“She was so gracious in welcoming me to campus and to the fellowship,” Garcia said. “I always saw her as a wise advisor who made you the focus of the conversation. And she had lasting impact; she was also a model of what a woman leader in her 70s, 80s and 90s could be.”

Those sentiments were echoed by James Risser, director of the John S. Knight Fellowships from 1985 to 2000, who recalled, “Marion was a rare combination of skillful journalist and dedicated educator.”

Lewenstein retired from Stanford the first time in 1995, but continued teaching part-time. She became involved in early research on how people consumed news through the Internet. She fully retired in 2001, but her contributions remained.

“Marion was a wonderfully generous teacher and colleague,” said Fred Turner, the Harry and Norman Chandler Professor of Communication in H&S. “She kept the importance of good journalism front and center for all of us.”

At Stanford, she also served as a resident fellow in Schiff House, co-chaired the Board of Trustees Special Committee on Investment Responsibility and taught at Stanford’s programs in Florence and Oxford. She was a member of the Writing Across the Curriculum task force in 1984 that recommended a writing-intensive course requirement. Lewenstein was named outstanding journalism educator at the four-year college level in 1981 by the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Covering Silicon Valley

Prior to joining Stanford, Lewenstein reported for Electronic News, first on staff and then, after her children were born, as a freelancer. Lewenstein played “a pioneering role covering the technology beat in the San Francisco Bay Area,” said Henry Lowood, the Harold C. Hohbach Curator for the History of Science & Technology Collections and the curator for Film & Media Collections in the Stanford University Libraries. By the 1960s, he said, “she had established a reputation for covering science and technology in the region that became Silicon Valley.”

During her journalism career, Lewenstein also wrote for Time, Fortune, Postgraduate Medicine and other publications. In 1969, she did the background research and wrote the initial copy for a story that traced the lineage of electronics companies founded by people who had worked at Fairchild Semiconductor. Versions of the original lineage chart continue to circulate today.

Marion Marcus was born on Oct. 15, 1927, in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest of four children. Her father left the family when she was three. By the time of World War II, her two oldest siblings had left home. Her remaining brother was killed in an aviation accident over Britain during the war. She graduated high school in 1945, but was unable to attend college full time because of the Great Depression’s effect on her family’s resources.

Soon after the war ended, her family moved to San Francisco. There she sought work as a journalist, but was told she had no experience. She was hired as a secretary by a trade publishing company. She convinced her employers to let her start covering small stories, and then they hired her as a reporter for Home Furnishings Daily and Women’s Wear Daily.

In 1955, Marcus married Harry Lewenstein, an electronics engineer who worked in technical marketing. She asked her employer to transfer her to their new publication, Electronic News, to share her husband’s interest. Her reporting often was featured on the front page because, as she told an interviewer for the Stanford Historical Society Oral History Project, “This was where everything was happening.”

Though she said she rarely thought of herself as a trailblazer, others later praised her as a role-model for women trying to combine family life with careers. In the early 1970s, she contributed two chapters to a book called Second Careers for Women, sponsored by Stanford as part of a movement recognizing the changing workplace. Lewenstein was also known in Palo Alto for helping to create the city’s first falafel restaurant with her friend Jan Nix, a local food writer. The Mediterranean Sandwich Shop was located just off California Avenue on Ash Street.

In 1997, Lewenstein and her husband were cycling across southern Portugal when he fell and broke his neck. He was a quadriplegic until his death in 2010. “I learned to be patient, which I didn’t know I could do,” she reflected.

Lewenstein is survived by her son Bruce, her daughter Bailey Merman, three grandsons and a great-grandson.

The family requests that donations in lieu of flowers be made to Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. A public memorial service will be announced at a later time.