The Tardy Times

'Ruthless editing' left us with 80 poems
  by a brilliant but unconfident writer  

Melda Schwab Ludlow,  writer, editor, poet and founder of the Tamalpais Writers Workshop in Mill Valley,  died Tuesday, April 5,  in a San Rafael nursing home from the infirmities of old age. She was 94.
     In 2001, a series of disabling strokes clouded Mrs. Ludlow's mind and sent her to the Pine Ridge Care Center in the Terra Linda district of San Rafael (at right, Melda at 17).
     Found in her home was a jumbled stash of more than 80 poems that had survived her ruthless self-editing over the years.   Entitled "Left With the Wonder," the collection is described by her son Lynn as "poetry whose subtle symbolisms disguise extraordinary emotional power."
   Together with haiku and a few jottings from her notebooks, her poems are posted on the Web (formerly at, now at                                               
    The writers' workshop began in the Mill   Valley Public Library and continued through the 1980s in her Cascade Way home beside the Dipsea stairs above Old Mill Park. Students included former San Francisco Ballet prima ballerina Sally Bailey Jasperson, author of "Letters from the Maestro" and "Striving for Beauty."
    "She nursed me for two years through my first publication, a monograph of 80 pages," she told the family. "While working on my second book when she was no longer available, I would ask, 'Melda, where are you when I need you?'  Now I realize she was there all the time, in my head."
MELDA'S HUSBAND, pianist John E. Ludlow, taught music to generations of students in Mill Valley. He died in 1991.
    They had three sons.
    Conrad Ludlow of Salt Lake City, now a professor of dance at the University of Utah, is a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. His wife, Joy Feldman, is also a veteran of NYCB.
    Roger D. Ludlow of Sunnyvale, now a San Jose building inspector, is an inventor and former contractor in the Santa Clara Valley.  His wife, Carol, is a paralegal.
   Lynn Ludlow of San Francisco, the eldest, is retired from the San Francisco Chronicle. He also taught journalism at San Francisco State and Dominican University. He had worked as a reporter and editor at the San Francisco Examiner, San Jose Mercury, Marin Independent Journal, Champaign-Urbana (Ill.) Courier and Paxton  (Ill.) Daily Record. His wife, Margo Freistadt, is a copy editor at The Chronicle.
MELDA was the daughter of pioneer families in Montana and Idaho. Born in Eugene, Ore., she grew up on a small farm outside little Corvallis in western Montana's Bitterroot Valley. She attended Kalamazoo College in Michigan and was graduated from the University of Montana, where she met and married her husband.
    In Missoula she studied writing with Prof. Harold G. Merriam and contributed fiction to his regional literary magazine, Frontier.  It led to a long association with Caxton Printers Ltd. in Caldwell, Idaho, where she became book editor for what was then the biggest publishing house in the West.  The Idaho novelist Vardis Fisher was one of the regional authors she edited, encouraged and promoted.
    Moving to Telegraph Hill in San Francisco in 1942,  Melda remained a literary consultant with Caxton's while John worked on the docks. They soon became regulars in a bohemian circle of poets and artists at the Black Cat saloon in North Beach's Italiatown.  
    When John became an electrician on Liberty and Victory ships at Sausalito's Marinship in 1943, the family moved to Mill Valley. After the war, while he taught piano, Melda spent many years as a long-distance reviewer, editor and publicist for Caxton's book list.
PRECEDING her in death were her closest friends from the years when Mill Valley was haven for many an artist and writer. They included experimental composer Harry Partch, who lived in her downstairs bedroom while working on "Plectra and Percussion Dances" and "Oedipus"; Dorothy Tolpegin, the poet and writer; Lucienne Bloch, the daughter of composer Ernest Bloch, a close friend of Frida Kahlo and a noted muralist herself; her husband, Steve Dimitroff, also a painter and muralist, and Constance Karla, musician and artist.  
     An ardent hiker, Melda was navigating the Matt Davis and Steep Ravine trails on Mt. Tamalpais well into her 80s.
    She leaves nine grandchildren. They are Rhys Ludlow of San Rafael, proprietor of Ludlow Media in Larkspur; Morgan Ludlow of San Francisco, business manager for Teatro ZinZanni; Amy Grigsby of Berkeley, attorney with the First District Appellate Project; Christopher Ludlow, Thousand Oaks; Llewellyn Ludlow, Bolinas; Chandra Ludlow, Modesto; Tristan Ludlow, Sunnyvale, and Kenny Melda Ludlow and Paul Moran, both of San Francisco.
       Mrs. Ludlow is also survived by her younger brother, the Rev. Richard Schwab, of Vancouver, Wash.; by eight great-grandchildren, and by numerous nieces, nephews and cousins throughout the West.
      She also leaves her dear friends:  Steve Coleman, the Mill Valley stage designer; Cornelia Francis, her college pal who lives near Arlee, Mont.; Ruth Hull Percy, her best friend in teen years, now of Davison, Mich.; Barbara Martin of Point Richmond, and fellow writers Barbara Jacobs, Judith Peck, Cameron Galloway and Mary Andrews.
FRIENDS are invited to a memorial service starting at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19, at the Mill Valley Community Church, 8 Olive St. at Throckmorton Avenue.   Information: 415/648-3369. Inurnment is planned at a later date at the Corvallis Cemetery in Corvallis, Montana.  
     Melda Ludlow loved the library. The family suggests memorials in the form of donations to Friends of the Mill Valley Public Library, 375 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley CA 94941.

MELDA LUDLOW'S  obituary appeared April 10, 2005, in the San Francisco Chronicle. Other newspapers also published similar obits:  Marin Independent Journal,  Mill Valley Herald,  Bitterroot Star in Stevensville, MT, and the  Recorder-Herald in Salmon, ID. (We added the photo.)

Updates in 2008: Melda's ashes were interred in June 2005 in the Corvallis Cemetery next to the grave of her father, Charles F. Schwab, and her stepmother, Mabel Fitch Schwab. Melda's lifelong friend and pen pal,  Cornelia Francis, died soon after Melda. Rhys Ludlow is now living in Richmond, CA.

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