Martha Milton Stookey December 6, 1939 - April 4, 2021 Martha (Marie) Milton Stookey was born in Oakland, California, on December 6, 1939, and died at her home in San Francisco on April 4, 2021, Easter Sunday, at age 81. She was the daughter of Alvin Earl Milton of St. Louis, Missouri, and Charlotte Margarethe (Reipert) Milton of Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland). Martha was raised with her half-brother, Rudolf Gillard, in East Oakland, where her father was a barber and her mother a nurse. She was a graduate of Castlemont High School and U.C. Davis, where she was a drama major and had leading roles, including Hedda Gabler and Lady Macbeth, in university productions. At Davis, she met her husband, Richard Phelps Stookey. They were married in Oakland on March 24, 1962, and lived in Menlo Park, Nevada City, and San Francisco, where they raised two children, Margaret "Meg" Stookey Olson and Nathaniel Milton Stookey. From 1971-3, the family lived in the remote village of Banca in the French Basque Country, where Martha charmed and mystified locals by walking to isolated farms and asking, in broken French, to draw their kitchens! As a visual artist, she went on to publish illustrations, costume countless plays, and create dolls, tiles, and paintings, which were sold through Thousand Fingers Cooperative, San Francisco Women Artists, and Gump's, among others. Beginning in 1979, Martha taught drama at the French American International School and International High School, building a robust program for grades 6-12 leading to the International Baccalaureate in Theater. She also founded the school's bilingual theater company, Back à Dos, which she directed until 2006 and retired from (as costume mistress) in 2017. Back à Dos quickly built a reputation for challenging and innovative programming, from Arrabal's Pique-nique en Campagne in its 1983 inaugural season through the world premiere of Luna Park, by Caridad Svitch, which Martha commissioned in her final year as director. Today, Back à Dos serves approximately 100 students per year in four annual productions, with three full-time artistic staff. Several of Martha's former students have gone on to professional careers in theater, including Tony-nominated actor Manoel Felciano. During her association with Back à Dos, Martha forged long-term relationships with Shakespeare & Company, ShadowLight Balinese theater and foolsFURY. She also wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Three Mornings (after Proust) with composer David Williamson. As an actress, she was a regular presence in Bay Area stage productions, making occasional appearances in television and film. She attended Church of the Advent and Grace Cathedral, where she was a beloved reader and directed the Cathedral Players from 1995-99. Over the half-century she lived with her husband Richard in their house in Glen Park, she transformed it, largely by her own hands, into an oasis of beauty, family and community in the heart of the city. Together, they welcomed four grandchildren (Luther and Elizabeth Olson, Milton and Gertrude Stookey) and one great-grandchild, Antonio Dietrich. We, her family and friends, will miss Martha's boundless creativity; her unshakeable faith in her students and loved ones; her uncompromising dedication to quality and craft; her thoughtful calm; her refreshing iconoclasm; and most of all her warmth and sense of fun. According to family tradition, she asked to be remembered on her birthday, December 6 (St. Nick's!), with her favorite food: oysters and champagne! As she would have said before gleefully slurping down her first oyster: Give us grateful hearts, and make us ever mindful of the needs of others.
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Dec. 6 to Dec. 7, 2021.