Robert Gehrke: In Mary Malouf’s tragic death, the city lost an icon and I lost a dear friend

Salt Lake Magazine editor made an imprint on the city.

(Photo courtesy of Salt Lake Magazine) Mary Malouf, the executive editor of the Salt Lake Magazine, died Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, after she was hit by a rogue wave while walking along the California coast.

I moved back to Salt Lake City in 2007, and while it was home for me, it wasn’t. I’d been gone for a while and things changed, people moved on.

My desk, as it happened, was next to Glen Warchol’s, a brash, loud reporter who would conduct these interviews like wrestling matches at enough decibels for everyone to hear, then give me a full recap when he was done.

He invited my family to a Christmas party that year and that’s where I first met Mary Malouf. Walking into their home was getting a glimpse of Mary — the collection of cowboy boots when you first crossed the threshold, the vibrant colors, the warmth, the Southwestern-style paintings, the skull salvaged from the desert, and always — always — food, music and drink.

The “Galvanized Magnolia,” as Glen called her, crackled with energy from the toe of her boots to the tip of her tousled hair, and was effervescent as her pink champagne.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

She taught my son the finer points of being — as Glen and Mary put it — “an apprentice gentleman’s gentleman.” Mary passed along the sense of Southern hospitality imparted on her by her mother, Polly — how to be a gracious host, open a champagne bottle, appreciate Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, and savor the best food and art.

Charlie would crash on their couch and expand her horizons on video games and superhero movies. When I told my son Monday night that she had been killed in an accident, it took a while to sink in. But later, after some tears, he said to me, “It was like she was my other grandma.”

He adored her. We all did. Glen and Mary were the hub of a wheel of people who spun around them, an ersatz family who they loved relentlessly.

The pair were always embracing the next adventure, whether it was traveling to Nepal or sojourning in the desert in their “canned ham” trailer with their cat.

When Glen’s heart gave out nearly three years ago, her world collapsed. The wheel wobbled but somehow the center held. We were held in Mary’s orbit, not because of gravity, but because of the love and devotion she showed and gave in return.

She brought so much to so many of us, and brought a lot to her adopted home, as well.

As the editor of Salt Lake Magazine and the community’s preeminent restaurant critic, she helped sculpt the culture of this city, not in massive, showy ways, but in important ways that go to the core of our community and who we are.

“Mary was more than a food critic, she was a crackling writer, keen observer and a great wit,” her best friend and managing editor at the magazine, Jeremy Pugh, told me. “She was a cultural icon, she helped shape this town.”

Jimmy Santangelo, owner of the Wine Academy of Utah, said Mary was a force of nature. “You always knew when Mary was in the house,” he said. “You were on your toes and it was for all the right reasons, because she wanted you to do things right.”

“I can only imagine Mary right now at the Lord’s table having dinner and saying, ‘The bread’s too firm and you broke the butter sauce with the lamb,” Santangelo said. “I can just see it now.”

(Photo courtesy Stuart Graves) Mary Malouf, the executive editor of the Salt Lake Magazine, died Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, after she was hit by a rogue wave while walking along the California coast.

Mary’s writing seemed effortless (it never was) and authoritative, equipped with a devastating wit, surgical insight, encyclopedic knowledge and opinions about everything.

When Ken Sanders, who got to know Mary on an adventure on the Colorado River a year ago, called after hearing the news, he put it well: You don’t want to go up against Mary on anything, books, history, film — anything — because you’ll be wrong.

As Glen put it once, some guys have wives who think they know everything; his actually did.

After Mary lost her father, Donald Waddington — D-Don to everyone, always “Daddy” to her — to COVID-19 a few weeks ago, she was shaken.

We missed her on our last semi-regular Zoom call because she was headed to California to visit her son, Britt, in Humboldt. She needed the time to regroup and recharge, and she was always happiest when she was with family.

Monday afternoon, as she and Britt were walking along the pounding surf on the North Jetty, a wave crashed ashore and washed them both to sea. Britt was able to cling to the rocks and made it out. Mary was eventually pulled from the water but could not be resuscitated.

For a lover of literature, it was an epic final chapter.

For the rest of us, it has left a gaping hole, not only in the lives of those who knew her, but in the fabric of our community.

I miss my friend already and my heart aches for her kids, Britt and Anna, and her stepkids, Sam and Kit, who she loved more than anything on earth.

We lost a lot. Our city has lost a lot. And she would hate me making such a fuss over her. So I’ll just end the way she ended so many emails and texts. “Much love. xxoomm.”