McCaffrey, Marie (b. 1951)

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 2/18/2024
  • Essay 22881
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Marie McCaffrey (b. 1951) is the co-founder of, The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, and served as its executive director from 2007 to her retirement in 2024. She was a Seattle native and graduated from Nathan Hale High School in 1969. She supported herself as an artist and later as a baker, including a one-year stint in Petersburg, Alaska. She met Walt Crowley (1947-2007) while working at the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square and they began what was later described as a long-running dance of "mutual infatuation and separation" ("The Romance That Made HistoryLink"). They married in 1982, ran an advertising agency together, and became a well-known Seattle author-activist team. In 1999, they launched, with McCaffrey as the art director, and it proved to be an immediate success. When Crowley died in 2007, McCaffrey took over as executive director. Under her leadership, expanded its size and scope, and produced many local history books. She also served as a member of the Seattle Arts Commission and as the board president of the Seattle Public Library.

Lake City Born and Raised

Marie May McCaffrey was born in Seattle’s Maynard Hospital on July 9, 1951, to Hugh and Margaret McCaffrey. Her father was born on a farm in the Midwest but was lured west to the sea as a young man and became a sailor. He eventually became first mate on the famous schooner Wawona, one of the last fore-and-aft sailing ships to work the lumber and fishing trades in the Northwest. Later he became master of the Sophie Christenson, another schooner that fished for cod in Alaska. "Everybody called him Mac, Mac McCaffrey," said Marie. "He had tattoos, he was a sailor, he was a Teamster – and he was a real character. He also piloted tugboats down here (in Puget Sound), too" (Kershner interview).

While in Alaska, her father met Margaret May, a native of North Dakota who was working in Nome as a telegraph operator. They hit it off immediately. Hugh, by this time, was having trouble with his eyesight and could no longer envision a future as a ship’s master. So the two of them came to the Seattle area, got married, and settled in the Lake City neighborhood in northeast Seattle. Hugh started a new career as a real estate agent. They were both in their 40s when they had their only child, Marie. "This is now usual that people have children later in life, and usual for people to have only children," said Marie. "But when I was born, that was very unusual, in that I was not like the other kids. People thought only children were really spoiled. There was a prejudice about that" (Kershner interview).

As a toddler, Marie was also unusual in that she was, by her own account, "very, very shy" (Kershner interview). "I don't believe that I said anything until I was 4. And then I apparently blurted out a poem or something. And I don't know what happened to me, because, clearly, I'm not that way anymore ... You know what? I just had too many things to say, and I needed to say them" (Kershner interview).

The family lived in that same Lake City house, 10324 20th Avenue NE, all through her childhood. She attended Sacajawea Elementary, Jane Addams Junior High, and Nathan Hale High School. The McCaffrey family hung out with a colorful crowd, including Hy Zimmerman, a well-known Seattle Times sportswriter, and a number of other journalists. Hugh even showed up in a few of Zimmerman’s columns. Yet Marie did not have a tranquil home life. Hugh McCaffrey was not cut out for the life of a real estate agent. "He was a hail-fellow-well-met – everybody loved him, but he wasn't really good at running his own business and he also drank way too much," said Marie. "It wasn't just like he was drinking too much. He drank way, way too much. And my mother, by the time I was 13, said we can't have this" (Kershner interview).

They separated and Mac went out of their lives when Marie was 13. She said she saw him only one more time before he succumbed to cancer after a long decline (Kershner interview). "And my mom had to go out at the age of her late 50s and find a job," said Marie. "So I was a latchkey kid at 13, which was fine with me" (Kershner interview). Her mother found a good job as a secretary at the University of Washington’s health sciences department, where she thrived.

An Artistic Bent

Marie was a shy child, a voracious reader with an artistic bent. She had always drawn and painted. But when she got into junior high, she blossomed. "Apparently out of nowhere, I became one of the popular kids there, so that the popular boys wanted to date me and everything," she said (Kershner interview). But in high school she realized that the popular kids were not the ones she was actually drawn to. Instead she found a different group "that became my friends and that remain my friends to this day. And they were all really smart … really, really, really smart. And they all played instruments, and they were the kind of people that I wanted to know" (Kershner interview).

She harbored dreams of being an artist and she was "extremely well-read" (Kershner interview). Yet she wasn’t exactly reading the things that she needed to read in class. Her grades were not good: C’s and B’s with an occasional D thrown in. "I had a C average, maybe," she said. "Not very good. And I went into [the guidance counselors]. 'What are you going to do with your future?' And I said, 'Well, I'm going to go to the University of Washington. I want to go to the university [where] my mother always wanted me to go.' And they said, 'Not with those grades. Have you considered a community college?'" (Kershner interview). She was shocked. "[It] really pissed me off," she said. "So in the last year and a half of high school, I took two years of French. I took algebra and calculus. I took every single required class. I piled them on each other, and I got straight A's for the rest of the time. And the teachers were stunned. They were just like, 'We really got through to this kid, we broke through.'  But really, it was just, 'Okay, well, I better get my shit together here because I'm going to be a loser and I don't want that'" (Kershner interview).

Her mother, who was still working at the University of Washington, and her teachers "pushed me over the line so that I could get into the University of Washington" after she graduated in 1969 (Kershner interview). She pursued a major in art, and even started a sideline in a booth at Pike Place Market, selling pen-and-ink drawings that she later described as like "fancy cartooning" (Kershner interview). "I managed to make enough money actually selling these things, strangely enough, that I could live," she said (Kershner interview).

Baker in a Boathouse

Soon after, she discovered that she had another talent, baking. She found an especially good recipe for cheesecake and began making cheesecake for her friends. She was buying lots of cream cheese from a Pike Place Market shop called the Juice Company, and one day the shopkeeper asked her what she was doing with all that cream cheese. She said she was making cheesecake because her friends liked it so much. The shopkeeper asked for a slice, and then said, "This is the best cheesecake we’ve ever had. Could you make it for our restaurant?" (Kershner interview).

McCaffrey's new career as a baker was born. The cheesecake was a hit at the restaurant, and before long she started a company called Marie’s Cheesecakes, delivering to stores around the city. She delivered by city bus, not by car. Although she was now in her 20s, she did not know how to drive. "One of the things about my mom was she was a terrible, terrible driver, and she didn't drive for most of my life," said McCaffrey. "But after my mom and dad separated, she had to drive, and she was terrible. It gave me a fear of driving, and I didn't like driving. I actually didn't learn how to drive until I was 56, after Walt died" (Kershner interview).

She made good money, and around this time she dropped out of the University of Washington. She was living in a small boathouse on Lake Union – a cool "little idyllic area" – and making a living with her art and her baking. One of her cheesecake clients was the Central Tavern in Pioneer Square. This was during a time, around 1972, when Pioneer Square was enjoying a rebirth. The Central Tavern was a remarkable gathering place for artists, journalists, and politicians, along with "slime balls, writers, just everybody in the same mix – it was the center of the universe" (Kershner interview). McCaffrey loved the place and landed a part-time job there as a night waitress – an extremely brief job. "Apparently, I was the worst waitress they ever had," she said. "They told me that. Terrible waitress, not a good job for me" (Kershner interview). She would later move into the kitchen, as a baker.

Meeting Walt Crowley

This job would change her life. One day, after her shift, a lunch customer looked over at her and said, "You eat here?" She said yes, and then he got up and walked away. "I thought, 'He’s cute. I wonder, he looks like a lawyer or something.' I could tell he was flirting with me" (Kershner interview). She asked the barmaid who he was, and she replied, "That’s Walt Crowley" (Kershner interview). She was well aware of the name but had never actually met the man. He had been somewhat of a legend at Nathan Hale High School, where he was four years ahead of her. He had dropped out of the UW to work for the Helix, Seattle’s underground newspaper. As a high-schooler, McCaffrey had admired his writing and, especially, his cartooning. "Everybody was, 'Oh, Walt Crowley went to our high school,'" she recalled. "That's so cool. And I thought his drawings were so amazing ... I thought at that time that I would love to work with him" (Kershner interview).

She had next become aware of him in 1970 at an anti-war rally on the University of Washington campus. The atmosphere was turning ugly in the aftermath of the Kent State shootings. Violence was in the air and some of the speakers were fanning the flames. And then Crowley, well-known in the antiwar movement, got up to give a different kind of speech. "It was funny, and what the speech was designed to do, was to pull the violence out of the air," she remembered. "He just pulled it out. He got people laughing, got them breathing. It was an amazing thing to watch ... Maybe I said it out loud, I don’t know, but I thought to myself, 'I want to know that person'" (Kershner interview).

It took another few years, but that’s finally what happened at the Central Tavern. Crowley came back a few days later, started up another conversation, and they started going out. By now, Crowley had left the Helix and was working for the City of Seattle in various roles in neighborhood and community services – which explains why she thought he looked like a lawyer instead of a long-haired activist. On her 23rd birthday, he gave her one of his drawings, with the inscription, "To Marie on Her 23" (Kershner interview). This was the beginning of a long and momentous relationship – but for the first five years, it was a "slightly rocky" relationship. That’s because Crowley, at the time, "didn’t think marriages worked" (Kershner interview). Essentially, he believed that it was impossible to have a strong physical attraction and a strong intellectual relationship at the same time. "In his belief system, he believed that to be untrue – that could not possibly happen," said McCaffrey. "It took him almost five years to figure out that, in fact, it could" (Kershner interview).

Crowley was building his career over those five years, holding titles including Seattle’s Director of Neighborhood Services and deputy director of the city’s Office of Policy Planning. Seattle Met magazine would later call him "a policy whiz kid at City Hall" ("The Romance That Made HistoryLink"). Meanwhile, McCaffrey had been rethinking her career ambitions. "By that time, I thought I was a baker – that this was what I was going to do, because there weren't any jobs for artists," she said. "Plus, I realized by that time that if you're going to be an artist, you really needed to have something to say. There's a certain amount of ego that has to go into that, where you believe that you're the only person that can say that thing, and you've got to dedicate your life to it. I realized I wasn't that" (Kershner interview).

Off to Alaska

She went from the Central Tavern kitchen to become the managing baker at the Bread Company, another Seattle restaurant. But that restaurant shut down and she had to look for another job. She went to a job interview in a Seattle hotel and was offered a job on the spot from the owner of a large bakery in Petersburg, Alaska, whose longtime baker was retiring. When Marie demurred, the owner said, "Well, you don't even have to accept it. We'll pay for your trip up there. You can stay with my family, and you get a free trip, see Petersburg. You don't have to take the job" (Kershner interview). McCaffrey called her mom and confided her worries. "Well, mom, I don’t really know how to bake all these things" (Kershner interview). Her mother replied, "Yeah, well, you’ll figure it out. Go up there" (Kershner interview).

She took the job. She had another motive for going to Alaska. "One reason I went up there was Walt just wasn't committing to me," she said. "And I thought, well, I'll just go up here and if it's love, it'll work out. If it isn't …? But the larger reason was, I was given a chance to do such a weird thing. If I didn't do it, I'd always wonder about it" (Kershner interview).

On arrival, it was soon obvious that it was not an ideal situation. The old baker was supposed to take a couple of months to teach her the job. "After two weeks he goes, 'Yeah, you're no baker. I'm not going to spend any more time with you.' So there I was in Alaska with this bakery. Thanks a lot!" (Kershner interview). She was churning out everything from donuts to wedding cakes, not just for Petersburg, but all the surrounding islands. "I’ll tell you, I learned a lot ... The first thing I did in the morning was lift a hundred-pound sack of flour over my head ... And then repeat. All day long like that. But I did it. I figured out how to do it" (Kershner interview).

At one point, Crowley flew up to, which only served to convince McCaffrey, once again, that she was truly and thoroughly in love. About a year into her Alaska stint, she was talking one morning to her bakery assistants about Walt. "They said, 'What are you doing up here, if you love this guy?' And I thought, 'Yeah, what am I doing up here?'" She came back to Seattle, where she gave Crowley an ultimatum: He would either make a commitment to her, or they were done. He waffled for a couple of months, but then one night he showed up at her house and pounded on her door. "He said, 'I love you. I’m sorry I screwed this up. I am committed to you forever.' And that was it" (Kershner interview).

Home for Good

The "rocky" phase of their relationship was over, and she soon moved in with Crowley in his Lake Union-area home. She said goodbye to her baking career and decided to put her art talent back to work as a graphic designer. "This made sense,” she said. "I had the visual skills, but I also was very interested in how you communicate with those skills ... So graphic design seemed a perfect fit for me" (Kershner interview). She enrolled in the graphic design program at the New School of Visual Concepts, which she attended for a year and half.

In the meantime, her name made its first appearance in a Seattle newspaper when she became a key part of a group organizing Pioneer Square’s first-ever Fat Tuesday celebration in 1977. Inspired by New Orleans Mardi Gras festivities, organizers including the Central Tavern’s Bobby Foster (1946-1979) lined up musicians to play in every bar and restaurant, capped off with a parade. Thousands of people showed up, jamming Pioneer Square in numbers that shocked even the organizers. McCaffrey would later say, "We didn’t know there was such a thing as too many people" ("Remembering Fat Tuesday"). Fat Tuesday went on to become a staple of Seattle’s event calendar for the next 24 years.

When she finished her graphic design courses, she and Crowley formed a partnership – not yet a marriage partnership, but a business partnership. In 1980, they opened an advertising agency together, called Crowley Associates. He was the head writer and she was the graphic designer. The agency was somewhat of an outlier in a field still dominated by former New York ad men. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s legendary columnist Emmett Watson quoted Crowley in 1980 as saying, "This is a group of all Seattle natives. It’s easier to teach a Seattleite about advertising than it is to teach a New Yorker about Seattle" (Watson). Watson described McCaffrey as an "organizer of the first Fat Tuesday" (Watson).

Crowley Associates made ads for restaurants, businesses, and labor unions. "What we did was critical in winning several labor disputes," said McCaffrey (Kershner interview). The agency became especially known for creating political ads – some of its clients included future governor Mike Lowry (1939-2017) and future Seattle mayor Norm Rice (b. 1943). Crowley Associates also designed ad campaigns for various ballot measures, including several contentious public transportation measures. McCaffrey would later say their strategy sessions for these advertising campaigns served as "master classes" in politics and public policy (Kershner interview). They didn’t win all of these political campaigns, but even the losses taught them valuable lessons about how to advance civic causes. Walt and Marie did not realize it at the time, but the relationships they developed with Washington’s future movers and shakers would prove invaluable when they started

Love and Loss

Several events in the late 1970s and early 1980s changed McCaffrey's life. First, her mother, Margaret McCaffrey, died. This was a particularly tough blow, since Marie had remained close to her mother and now was left with virtually no other family ties. She had always admired her mother. She called her a "straight arrow," "really, really social," "beloved by everybody," and "super fun" (Kershner interview). "I consider that I'm complimenting myself to say that I'm a lot like her," she said (Kershner interview).

After her mother’s death, McCaffrey sold the family home in the Lake City neighborhood and she and Crowley used some of the proceeds to buy a house together in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood. Crowley had finally resolved his doubts about marriage. "By that time, we owned a business together, so we were living together," she said. "So getting married was like an 'extra credit' thing. We got married at the [advertising agency] office ... It was kind of almost simultaneous, in that we bought the house, we got married, and then we had our party in the house at Phinney Ridge" (Kershner interview).

Her mother had always disapproved of the boys Marie had gone out with in her younger days – but not Walt. "When she died, she was really, really happy, because she felt that he would take care of me," she said (Kershner interview). The marriage took place on June 28, 1982, and would last until Crowley’s death in 2007. It would prove to be a spectacularly strong partnership. In coming years they were routinely referred to in Seattle newspapers as "the local author-activist team of Walt Crowley and Marie McCaffrey" (Connelly).

Marriage only deepened her admiration of Crowley. "Walt had an amazing mind, just astonishing," she said. "I've never really met anyone like him before or since. He had read tons, tons, tons, and tons, and tons of serious stuff. He retained everything he ever read. He had this fabulous mind, because he could integrate all kinds of knowledge" (Kershner interview). McCaffrey was certainly not shy about praising him, in private and in public, "[He had] a commitment to making things better, in the sense that more people could go to school, more people could get an education, more people could eat nutritious meals, more people could get housing, those sorts of things," she said. "Someone said to me once, 'I think you admire Walt too much.' I said, 'Well, I'm married to him. Who else gets to do that? I can admire him as much as I like'" (Kershner interview).

They continued to run Crowley Associates in the early years of their marriage. A recession hit the agency hard in the early 1980s, so in 1984 Crowley took a full-time job as a columnist for the Seattle Weekly, which had become Seattle’s premier alternative weekly. McCaffrey continued to run Crowley Associates with a new partner, Maggie Brown, a former journalist. Before long, the agency was thriving again.

"A Doer of Weird Things"

Walt and Marie, in their spare time, had also embarked on a new career – producing books on local history. In 1986, the Rainier Club commissioned Crowley to write its centennial history, designed by McCaffrey and published in 1988. Over the next few years, they would go on to publish book-length histories of Metro Transit, Seattle University, and Group Health Cooperative.

McCaffrey was making excellent money with Crowley Associates, and she determined to devote 50 percent of her time to various causes, mostly in the arts world. She staged an auction for Allied Arts and staged more than one immersive theater show, including a murder mystery fundraiser for the Northwest Chamber Orchestra. She called herself "a doer of weird things, especially with Walt" (McCaffrey email). Their most visible role as activists came in 1999, when they emerged as champions of Susan McDougal, who had been charged and jailed for civil contempt in the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton. McCaffrey designed and printed "Free Susan McDougal" buttons, and then she and Crowley hosted a fundraising event at their Phinney Ridge home, in advance of McDougal’s obstruction of justice trial for refusing to answer independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s questions. Walt and Marie charged $100 apiece for a three-hour reception, attended by McDougal. They then attended the trial in Little Rock, Arkansas, in which McDougal was acquitted on the obstruction of justice charge.

McCaffrey was also appointed to the Seattle Arts Commission and would later be one of the recipients of the Seattle Arts Commission’s Howard S. Wright Award, as one of the "key players in the commission’s success" ("25 Key Players"). Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist John Marshall wrote that she was "an easy touch for all causes, great and small" (Marshall).

Then, one day in the latter part of the 1990s, McCaffrey was sitting in a Seattle bar listening to Crowley ponder his future. He had been an antiwar radical, a city official, a politician, and a journalist. "He was at a crossroads," she said. "And then I said, 'Well, if you could do anything in the world, what would you do?' And he said, 'I would write an encyclopedia of Seattle and King County history.' And, first of all, I thought, 'Really? That's what he would do if he could do anything?' That was my first reaction. But my second reaction was, well, we could do that" (Kershner interview). They had already published books together; they knew how to research; and they knew how to raise money. So McCaffrey said, "OK, let’s just do that, then" (Kershner interview).

They were certainly convinced of the necessity. The last comprehensive history of King County had been published in the 1920s. Crowley knew from his own Metro book project that it was far too difficult for journalists and researchers to find solid, reliable information about local history – and it was impossible to find it all in one place. At first, Crowley and fellow HistoryLink co-founder Paul Dorpat (b. 1938) envisioned it as a traditional encyclopedia in book form. It was McCaffrey, however, who had the true brainstorm. She suggested that a book was a quaint and perhaps anachronistic idea, and "that they should be constructing a website instead" (Anderson).

"I said, 'Well, what about this worldwide web thing? Wouldn't that be interesting?' And then we just both took off. 'This would be so much easier. And here we are living in this tech world'" (Kershner interview). At first they tried taking the idea to a backing institution – a university or a library – "but nobody could understand what we were talking about" (Kershner interview). After all, the World Wide Web was relatively new. So they finally realized that they could do it on their own by forming a nonprofit, raising startup money, and launching it on the Web. "Walt wasn't really going to make much money for a while," she said. "But I was making good money at the time so I could be nearly the entire support system" (Kershner interview).

And the Rest is History(Link)

It was incorporated on November 10, 1997, under the corporate title of History Ink. The prototype debuted on May 1, 1998, and the formal launch took place in early 1999 with 300 essays. Marie was the co-founder and art director. It was a hit from the beginning. The Seattle Times reported in 2001 that it had grown to 2,500 essays, had logged 12.5 million user "hits," and had "made itself an indispensable resource to users ranging from seventh-grade essayists to Ph.D. candidates and, yes, more than the occasional Northwest journalist" (Anderson).

Its success was due to several crucial elements that Crowley and McCaffrey insisted on from the beginning. Every essay was meticulously sourced, almost to academic standards, which made it stand out in the often-unreliable world of the internet. Also, every writer was paid – and paid well, by internet standards – which meant that it was not written by amateurs, and not "scammed from other sources" (Anderson). "Paid content produces much better work," McCaffrey told the Times (Lacitis). About 90 percent of HistoryLink’s budget was going to the writers as of 2001. Within a few years, they had raised enough money to go statewide. It was no longer just a Seattle encyclopedia; it was a Washington encyclopedia. They had also begun publishing history books on subjects including the Washington State Ferries and Seattle City Light.

Then, in 2007, came a crisis. Crowley had been diagnosed with laryngeal cancer and had surgery to remove his larynx, robbing him of his voice. Yet this did not kill the disease. Walt suspected he was dying, but Marie "was not accepting that," she said (Kershner interview). On September 21, 2007, Walt died of complications from another surgery. Before he died, he wrote a "just-in-case" letter to Marie, outlining what his wishes were upon his death.

In that letter, he wrote that "my view is that you are de facto acting director" and that "you should have the board confirm this" (Crowley letter). He told McCaffrey that, if she was willing to continue HistoryLink "as a 'living' site," she should look for "good, experienced journalists who are not too jaded" (Crowley letter). At the time, there was a lot of speculation in the Seattle media about who would take over HistoryLink, but it mainly centered on well-known names – former governors, or former mayors. Yet after about two months, the board’s decision was announced: McCaffrey was the new executive director. She told the Seattle P-I, "If I make grow and prosper, I keep Walt alive" (Lewis).

"So I took over and the writers were not that happy," she said. "They were like, 'What the hell, Marie?' They knew me, but I wasn’t a historian, and I wasn’t a writer. It took me a long time to gain their trust. I had to gain their respect. The writers and editors are the most valuable part of the team" (Kershner interview).

Within a year, she had earned that respect, partly because she had shepherded HistoryLink through a funding crisis, caused by the 2008 Great Recession. She pulled the organization through, and it came out stronger and in better financial shape than ever. The writers and editors came around once they realized that, in McCaffrey's words, "I could keep this thing afloat, and that I cared" (Kershner interview). "Unbeknownst to so many of us (and maybe even to herself) there was a savvy executive hiding inside her," said C. R. Douglas, a Seattle political commentator, broadcast journalist, and longtime HistoryLink supporter (Douglas). She was not a writer or historian, but she prided herself on being "an enabler of writers and historians" (Kershner interview). She soon established herself as the public face of the organization. "For many of us, Marie McCaffrey is HistoryLink," former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels said (Nickels).

She proved to be a gifted fundraiser, especially vital for a nonprofit. "I think in numbers," she said. "I can tell whether we’re on budget or not by putting my finger in the air ... I can tell you how much a thing costs and how much we raised, and what the net was and what the gross was" (Kershner interview). She had other strengths as well, perhaps previously hidden in the shadow of Crowley's big personality. "I’m a much better manager than he was," she said. "I put a staff together of really good people, who do their jobs, so I don’t have to worry about it ... I have cultivated a whole lot of talented people, and I know how to use them" (Kershner interview).

"HistoryLink needed exactly what she had to offer," said Douglas. "A love of history, yes. But also an ability to move in many different circles; a broad and ambitious vision of where the site could go; a refined sense of design; an inclusive/collaborative style; and – her real secret sauce – a personality that gets people to say yes instead of no, and happily so" (Douglas).

A Civic Treasure

Her energies were not entirely devoted to HistoryLink. She was appointed to the Seattle Public Library board in 2006 and became the board president in 2010. In 2011, she presided over the selection of a new city librarian. In 2012, she helped pass a successful $123 million, seven-year special levy, which allowed all branches to be open on Sundays for the first time in the system’s history. When she left the board in 2016, the Fremont Branch of the library named its meeting room the Walt Crowley & Marie McCaffrey Meeting Room. "The library encompasses every single thing I care about," she said (Kershner interview).

In 2016, Seattle Magazine named McCaffrey to its Seattle Hall of Fame for her part in the creation and development of The Hall of Fame list was intended to recognize people who "have transformed the town in extraordinary ways" over the past 50 years (Seattle Magazine). She was in good company: the Hall of Fame list included such luminaries as Dale Chihuly, Krist Novoselic, and Jeff Bezos. In 2019, she appeared on another Seattle Magazine list, as one of the 35 Most Influential People of 2019. "I thought it was nice that I was named both historically and currently," she said (Kershner interview).

HistoryLink grew massively during her tenure. One of her strategies was to launch large projects, such as a Washington agriculture project, that not only resulted in dozens of new historical essays on subjects such as wheat farming and apple growing, but also helped educate readers about their state’s farming heritage. As of 2024, had 8,200 original essays and was visited by an average of 4,500 visitors a day. HistoryLink also had produced many local history books on subjects including mass transit in Puget Sound, Seattle’s Olmsted parks, and the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

In early 2024, McCaffrey decided that, at age 72, it was time to step back and resign as executive director. She had been planning for this well in advance. "Everything I did was to build HistoryLink into a stable base, but the ultimate goal was to get to a place where I could transition out and we could survive without the founders," she said, just before she left in 2024. "… So I’m leaving HistoryLink in really, really good financial shape. And the projects that HistoryLink has in line for the next couple of years are also going to be good money earners" (Kershner interview). Jennifer Ott, McCaffrey's trusted assistant director, took over as executive director on January 1, 2024.

McCaffrey planned to give herself a year to think about what she wanted to do next – a year that would begin with two months traveling to Spanish Andalusia and Morocco. She had always been a passionate world traveler, jetting to such far-flung places as the Bay Islands of Honduras, Sicily, Spain, and to Italy and France many times. "I have traveled alone and with groups," she said. "I have rented villas and castles and planned treks for my friends all over Europe and Central America" (McCaffrey email). After that, she hoped to do something creative – perhaps harking back to her earliest aspirations as an artist. She was thinking about trying to publish something – not as a historian or enabler of historians – but as an illustrator.

As she contemplated her retirement, she summed up her life and career like this: "The short version is that I am unorthodox and remain a combination of Marie and Walt" (McCaffrey email).


Jim Kershner interview with Marie McCaffrey, December 5, 2023, recording and transcript in possession of the author; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Crowley, Walt,” (by Priscilla Long), “Remembering the First Fat Tuesday” (by Marie McCaffrey), ‘A History of HistoryLink” (by Casey McNerthney, (accessed January 5, 2024); Emmet Watson, “Three Dots and Out,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 24, 1980, p. B1; “The Romance that Made HistoryLink,” Seattle Met, February 2010; John Marshall, “Chamber Music and Chamber Murder,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 1, 1985, p. D1; “25 Key Players in Arts Commission Success,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 11, 1996, p. C7; Joel Connelly, “Seattleites Help Lighten Susan McDougal’s Load,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 27, 1999, p. A1; Ross Anderson, “Web Site is an Indispensable Link to Our Seattle-Area History,” Seattle Times, July 1, 2001, p. A1; Walt Crowley letter to Marie McCaffrey, original in possession of McCaffrey, copy in possession of the author; 2012 Annual Report, Seattle Public Library,, accessed January 17, 2024; Seattle Magazine, issues of November 2016 and November 2019, available through, accessed January 17, 2024; Mike Lewis, “Wife Picks Up HistoryLink Where Late Husband Left Off,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 3, 2008, p. B1; Erik Lacitis, “Pacific,” Seattle Times, August 1, 2021, p. 2 of the Pacific magazine section; Marie McCaffrey, email Jim Kershner, January 17, 2024, copy in possession of the author; Greg Nickels, email to Jim Kershner, January 17, 2024, copy in possession of the author; C.R. Douglas, email to Jim Kershner, January 18, 2024, copy in possession of the author.

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