Marilyn Ogus Katz ’54, Optimist and Possibilist

Dean of Studies and Student Life, 1982–1998


When Emily Katz Anhalt (classics) was 5 years old and on vacation with her family in Florida, she lost her glasses to the Gulf of Mexico in a freak fly-fishing mishap. While another parent might have attempted to console her simply with a hug or the promise of another pair, Anhalt’s mother, Marilyn Ogus Katz ’54, quickly made up a joyful song to sing to her daughter:

There’s a fish wearing glasses

In the Gulf of Mexico

Bifocal glasses in the Gulf

He can see to dodge the hook

He can even read a book

Wearing glasses in the Gulf of Mexico

“She instantly transformed my traumatic experience into a fable for song and story,” Anhalt said at the alumni celebration of Katz’s life and legacy held at the College on May 6. “I couldn’t see without my glasses, but my mother gave me an eye-opening new perspective.”

By the time she passed away on December 14, 2017, Katz had given countless Sarah Lawrence students, staff, and faculty new perspectives on their own experiences. “Marilyn was better than anyone I know at listening to students and helping them to talk about their ideas, their hopes, their fears,” Barbara Kaplan (dean of the college, emerita) shared at the memorial service. “Maybe the most interesting trend in student comments was the way they all began: ‘After I spoke to Marilyn, I realized …’; ‘I began to think about ...’; ‘Now I wonder if ...’”

Claire Rodman ’86, president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, reflected that Katz—first as a student and editor of The Phoenix in the early 1950s, later as dean of studies and student life, and finally through the eyes of her professor daughter—“saw Sarah Lawrence from more perspectives than most of us.” When she retired, she established The Marilyn Ogus Katz Initiative for Students Fund to help financially limited students cover small costs like train passes and plane fares, so that they might take full advantage of all the opportunities the College has to offer. “My mother was Sarah Lawrence to the core,” Anhalt said. “The College shaped her, and then she turned around and shaped it.”

“She was what I call a possibilist, a term I coined from the Italian.” —Judith Serafini-Sauli ’63 (Italian faculty, retired)

Katz was published in numerous journals, and her short story “Life List” was among the winners of the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition in 2015. Her story collection A Few Small Stones was published posthumously in March. When its eponymous story was selected to open an event organized by the literary forum 650 in January, her longtime partner George Petty read the work in her stead. At the time of her death, Katz was making the final revisions to her first novel, The Old City.

Ceaselessly cheerful, energetic, and tolerant, Katz also had a great sense of humor and irony, recalled Judith Serafini-Sauli ’63 (Italian, retired). Noting that Katz was an enthusiastic conversationalist as well as an attentive listener, Serafini-Sauli said: “It is not an uncommon perception that silent people seem smarter, and that pessimists and cynics also belong to a higher intellectual order. Marilyn defied that paradigm.”

To learn more about Katz’s life and writing, visit: