Melanie Mavrides, editor, former Globe reporter; at 49
Listening as a child while older siblings took piano lessons in their Wrentham home, Melanie Mavrides found she had an ear for sounds. When the piano bench was free, she began to plunk out songs note by note, harmony by harmony.
“She showed a genius for it,’’ said her sister Mary Bowker of East Sandwich. “Then she would listen to the radio. My mother was a huge show-tune fan and an opera fan, and Melanie would pick up these songs and play them. When she took lessons, she would memorize pieces for her recitals, and I don’t think she could read the notes. As a young adult, she did learn to read music, but that ear was phenomenal.’’
Tuning her ear to the language people spoke and the stories they told, Ms. Mavrides became an adept reporter and editor, winning awards in New England and in the Pacific Northwest, after she and her husband moved to Seattle.
Ms. Mavrides, who wrote for the Globe and other newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, died May 18 in Swedish Medical Center in Seattle of complications from scleroderma. She was 49.
Writing for the Globe in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Ms. Mavrides could evoke the scene a mother from Wrentham found while doing volunteer work in Haiti, trying to save dying children:
“She finds them in the mountains, in villages tucked away in jungles only accessible by foot. Mothers are with them, begging for her to heal them after voodoo spirits have failed. In Port-au-Prince, they run like wild dogs, scrounging in garbage cans for scraps of food.’’
In the home of a would-be country music songwriter from Franklin, Ms. Mavrides captured the quiet determination of a man who never married and never bought a car, choosing instead to focus his life on chasing the elusive hit:
“He shuffled through piles of musical score sheets that he has penned over the years and stuffed into manila envelopes. His piano is wedged between his television and his kitchen table, and he keeps his medicine for diabetes handy on the table. He apologized for a toaster and an electric razor he had set atop the piano.’’
And at a Town Council meeting in Franklin, Ms. Mavrides caught the challenge of change in a single quote. The board voted to appoint the town’s first female firefighter, but a man who voted against the appointment said: “I’d say she’s suited for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, wouldn’t you?’’
As would be the case when Ms. Mavrides moved to Seattle, colleagues at the Globe were as impressed by her as they were by her work.
“Melanie was a caring journalist, and a true professional, but an even better person,’’ said Peter S. Canellos, editorial page editor of the Globe. “Her enthusiasm for life was visible in everything she did. She identified strongly with her family, with its deep Boston roots, and the state of Massachusetts, even as she built a vibrant life in Seattle.’’
Born in Boston, Melanie Jane Mavrides was the youngest of four children, two generations removed from Greece, and grew up in Wrentham, where her parents had moved to a farm when the town was better known for its rural nature than its outlet stores.
Always athletic, she was such a good tennis player that her father paved part of the barnyard to build her a practice court.
Ms. Mavrides graduated in 1979 from King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham. She attended Keene State College in New Hampshire and Boston University before graduating with a bachelor’s in 1983 from the University of New Hampshire in Durham, where she majored in English.
“We met in Shakespeare class,’’ said her husband, John Stevens, whom she married in 1988. “I used to write sonnets for her. She loved that.’’
Indeed, he said, “she loved literature and loved writing. She’s probably the best editor I’ve ever worked with, and she was just a dogged investigative reporter.’’
After college, Ms. Mavrides worked as a reporter in New Hampshire at the Rochester Courier and the Portsmouth Herald, where she began editing and won an award for reporting on lead levels in drinking water in elementary schools. After a brief stint at a bureau for The Providence Journal, she began freelancing for the Globe and the Sun Chronicle of Attleboro.
When Ms. Mavrides and her husband moved to Seattle in the 1990s, she freelanced for The New York Times and won an award for articles in a weekly newspaper about the illnesses suffered by those exposed to long-term radiation at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington.
“She was a good reporter and had just such a great sense of curiosity,’’ said Timothy Egan, an opinion columnist for the Times who ran the paper’s Seattle bureau when Ms. Mavrides was a freelancer. “She did a little bit of everything and was really pretty ambidextrous as a professional.’’
In the late 1990s, she and her husband started a family and their children, Nathaniel and Olivia, were born. Ms. Mavrides continued to work as a freelancer and as an editor and producer for
“The career still was a career, and it was important to her,’’ her sister said, “but boy, it was second to motherhood.’’
In addition to her husband, son and daughter, and her sister Mary, Ms. Mavrides leaves another sister, Marcia of Boston, and a brother, Michael of Wrentham.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on June 18 in the Original Congregational Church of Wrentham. Burial will follow in Wrentham Cemetery.
Ms. Mavrides was training for a triathlon when the first symptoms of scleroderma appeared in her hands. The illness soon prevented her from playing piano and tennis, and she came close to losing her life in 2008 before the disease temporarily slipped into remission.
Throughout, she remained determined, researching scleroderma and working with whatever abilities remained in reach.
“Early on, she lost the use of her hands and managed to keep working, editing pieces with her index finger — that’s how she was typing,’’ her sister Mary said. “At the end, when she couldn’t type, she was dictating. She was tenacious, and she was like that whether she was working or cooking and finding a recipe. Nothing was too hard for her to cook.’’
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.