OAKLAND -- Back in 1963 when Margaret Mallory joined the Oakland Tribune, women writers in the home section didn't get their own byline. While Mallory would eventually receive the recognition she deserved as an award-winning food editor during her 22-year career at the Tribune, she -- like many before her -- wrote under the Tribune's traditional food-section pen name of "Martha Lee" for several years, until she took a stand and insisted on using her own name.
"That's how they did things in those days," said Mallory's daughter, Marty Walker, of San Francisco. "But my mother didn't like that. She told the editors that the sports writers got their own bylines, why not food? While my mom wasn't really a feminist, she did get 'Martha Lee' retired and got her own name in the paper from then on."
Mallory, a resident of the Rossmoor senior community in Walnut Creek, died Feb. 13 at John Muir Medical Center following complications from a broken leg. She was 90.
"Food needs to be healthy, but it also needs to be fun," Mallory was quoted as saying in a send-off article when she retired from the Tribune in 1985, describing herself as a "great believer in basics."
"I like to see a common-sense approach to food," she said.
That down-to-basics approach was likely molded early on. The youngest of seven children, Mallory grew up in San Francisco and later lived on a farm in the Sacramento Valley. As her mother prepared daily large pots of stews
She got a late start on college, entering San Jose State as a 38-year-old freshman, but graduated with a degree in home economics and quickly landed a job at the Tribune as an assistant in the food section. She took over as food editor in 1972, and shaped the section into what was considered one of the best in the Bay Area, if not the entire West Coast, at that time. In the process, Mallory earned several journalistic distinctions, including a 1975 media award from the Alameda County Heart Association and a first place award in 1983 from the National Restaurant Association.
"She did restaurant reviews and stories on wine pairings, which was rather unusual for those days," her daughter said. "She had a vision of what a food section should be. She really, really loved her job, and loved working at the Tribune."
Sonja Vukasin, proprietor of Peerless Coffee Company in Oakland, had known Mallory for more than 35 years. Mallory had interviewed Vukasin for a story about the coffee business, and the two became fast friends outside of work.
"She loved food, and researched every article and recipe she wrote," Vukasin said. "She was inquisitive, alert, smart, friendly and you couldn't help liking her."
When Mallory retired, she began writing a newsletter for the Peerless retail store. "She put it together beautifully -- interesting, educational and fun. And of course always with a recipe," Vukasin said. "Here in 2011, we still use the same format for our newsletter, only now in color."
Mallory lived in Castro Valley until moving to Rossmoor in Walnut Creek in the '90s. She spent her retirement "enjoying life, with quite the social network of friends," her daughter said.
Mallory is survived by her daughter; her son, Milton Mallory, of Mountain View; and one grandson. She was preceded in death by her husband and her six siblings.
She requested that no memorial service be held.