1-3-1928 ~ 7-17-2018
Dorde loved so many things, and lived for so many things. She was a beacon of strength who redefined beauty and brains, and an exquisite mix of brave fierceness and gentle grace. She was a collector of mysteries: she would ply them and know them, then joyfully dole them out like gifts to her family and friends. She was an explorer and an adventurer. She lived the journey. She loved the journey.
Raised in Chicago and educated at Carlton College and Northwestern University, she ventured west while still in her 20's with her husband Robert H. Wright when the Midwest proved to be too tame. She and Bob loved the wildness of the West. She took the landscapes of Utah - swift rivers, towering mountains, deep sandstone canyons, and most of all her beloved deserts - into her heart and made them her own with a loyalty that could only have been created in the wildfires of the soul. By horseback or by river raft, by jeep, sailboat, or on foot, with family or with friends or even alone, she went about the serious lifetime business of exploring as much of her splendid adopted state as she could grasp.
She raised four children in Utah: daughters who from the beginning carried in them her passion for knowledge, her love of all wild and living things, her longing for the landscapes, her appreciation for diverse lands and peoples, and her compassion for the frailties inherent in the beauty of all these things.
As her children grew older, she studied at the University of Utah in order to obtain an advanced degree in botany. She was a scientist at heart, and pursued her study of cacti with her characteristic arc towards excellence. In doing so, she discovered a previously unrecognized species of cactus that was ultimately named after her. Often in her desert research, she packed in on dirt bikes in order to reach the more remote areas. And so she discovered the path to her second career - that of a motojournalist. She was unfazed by the scarcity of women in that field at the time. Taking demo bikes of all sizes and dispositions in order to write about them for various publications, she made long sweeping motorcycle trips across many corners of this country, often with her children or later her grandchildren in tow. When she got married a second time to James E. Olive, they would ride motorcycles and explore the unknown lands together.
She made the extraordinary seem normal. Her grandchildren grew up thinking it was an everyday adventure to explore the desert in your grandma's sidecar. Traveling with her made you think that every dirt road led to a place of beauty. It was a common outing for the family to comb the meadows of the high Uintas in search of medicinal plants. Admirers of her work would visit from as far away as Germany to learn about the little sclerocactus she discovered and researched throughout the many decades of her life. Even into her late eighties she would drive her beloved desert backroads, often camping alone in search of beauty and solace. Once, when her little truck broke down many miles from any paved roads, to get help she flagged down a train.
In the end she rested quietly at home, in her house with the little forest around it that she had created, with her husband and her sister and her children and her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. They sat at her bedside and held her hand and stroked her hair and sang to her and told her it was okay to let go. At 3:00 am on July 17, 2018 her heart - this heart, which had been so strong and wild and passionate and full of love for ninety years - beat one last time, and was still.
A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, August 4th, 2018 at 2:00 pm at the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society located at 6876 Highland Drive, Cottonwood Heights, UT, 84121. Everyone is welcome.
Published in The Salt Lake Tribune on Jul. 28, 2018.