Published July 7, 2013 in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Mary Louisa Baird Carlsen, a writer and psychologist, died peacefully at Wheatland Village in Walla Walla on July 4, 2013, following complications arising from a stroke. She was surrounded by members of her family and her husband of 64 years, James. She was 84.
Mary Louisa Baird was born August 31, 1928, the fourth child of the Reverend Jesse Hays Baird and his wife Susanna—she was followed minutes later by a fifth, her twin sister, Margaret. In the 1930s, the family moved to the Bay Area, where her father served as president of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, and she happily spent her days exploring the woods of Mt. Tamalpais. Marybaird (as she liked to be called later in life) never forgot watching Rachmaninoff play a concert with the San Francisco Symphony in February 1941, which cemented a lifelong love of music.
She studied piano and organ and sang in the choir at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, before transferring to Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington. There, while she played Debussy’s “Pagodas,” a young music student named James entered her practice room. He had just returned from the War, where he had been stationed in Japan, and the Asia-inflected music he heard from the practice room piqued his interest—as did the beauty of the young woman playing it. They were married eighteen months later, in May 1949.
Over the next several years, Marybaird gave birth to four children: Philip, Douglas, Susan, and Kris. She worked as a professional pianist and organist, often accompanying the church choirs conducted by her husband, even as she earned a master’s degree in pipe organ from the University of Connecticut at Storrs in 1967.
A mid-life turn brought Marybaird to an interdisciplinary PhD program at the University of Washington, where she earned her doctorate in 1973. Shortly thereafter, she opened a private clinical psychology practice in Seattle, which she maintained for nearly 20 years. During this time, she lectured extensively on adult and career development and wrote two foundational books: Meaning-Making (Norton, 1988) and Creative Aging (Norton, 1991). These espoused her firm belief in the power of self-inquiry and creative exploration.
After moving with James to Walla Walla in 1995, she devoted herself to local arts and artists; helped to found Quest, an education program for seniors at Walla Walla Community College; and delved deeper into her writing, painting, and music. Throughout it all, she inspired beauty and curiosity and love.
Dr. Marybaird Carlsen is survived by her husband, James; a sister, Margaret Baird (Walla Walla); her children, Philip Carlsen (Mount Vernon, ME), Douglas Carlsen and his wife Mary Cleveland (Walla Walla), Susan Carlsen (Eugene, OR), and Kris Frost and her husband Chuck Frost (Fresno, CA); her grandchildren, Koren Vining and her husband Michael Vining (Denver, CO), Darrel Frost (New York, NY), Melsen Carlsen (Boston, MA), and Eric Carlsen (Boston, MA); and a great-grandson, Max Vining.
A celebration of her life will be held at Chism Hall at Whitman College on Friday, July 12, 2013. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Marybaird’s memory to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), the Alzheimer’s Association, Walla Walla Community Hospice, or a charity of the donor’s choice.