TO WRITE ABOUT columnist Marjorie Williams is to know one thing with awful certainty: She would have done it better herself. Marjorie died yesterday, three days after her 47th birthday, following a valiant, 3 1/2-year battle with a cancer that was supposed to have killed her long ago. Marjorie came to The Post from the world of New York publishing, and though she had none of the supposedly requisite experience with Washington or journalism, she turned out to have an instinctive understanding of the absurdities of the capital's bureaucracy and the foibles of its political inhabitants. Her political profiles -- for the Style section, the Post Magazine and Vanity Fair -- were unsparing dissections that combined elegant writing, telling detail and, above all, piercing insight fueled by her understanding of human nature and the nature of power. Of the secretary of state at the time, she wrote in 1987, "Jim Baker is a Washington ideal: Here, where the greatest accolade is to call someone a pragmatist, he has profited greatly by keeping his convictions unclear."
Marjorie began writing a column for us in 2000 -- a weekly present, exquisite prose wrapped around a treasure of intelligent analysis. She deflated the pomposities of politicians and exposed their evasions; she chronicled the unavoidable tensions of working motherhood. Scoffing at reports about the supposedly family-friendly Bush White House, Marjorie wrote, "Official Washington is implacably, impartially hostile to family life. You can tinker with this truth only at the margins, and to pretend otherwise is just to write one more chapter in the big book of lies titled 'Having It All.' " In one of her final columns, a tribute to our late colleague Mary McGrory, Marjorie described a typical McGrory column as "a souffle of surpassing grace packed with raisins of brutal insight." A line that Mary would have loved and that applied to Marjorie's work as well.
If you knew Marjorie Williams only from her writing, you knew her intelligence and her wit but not her sparkling laugh, nor her bred-in-the-bone graciousness, nor the warmth that drew friends, and friends' children, to her like a magnet. It is for Tim Noah, Marjorie's husband, and their fiercely loved children, Will and Alice, that our hearts break most, of course, but we also mourn a friend. And like thousands of her other readers, we feel cheated of the decades of columns that we now will never read -- the weekly gifts we should still be receiving.
In a column about the sniper shootings, but also about her cancer, Marjorie recounted her efforts to elide Will's question about why these shootings, among all the region's murders, had produced such panic. "What we really labor to keep from our children is the same bitter knowledge that their elders avoid . . . that there is no logic at all to some of the worst blows that life metes out," she wrote. "Time and chance happen to us all, darling boy, and even grown-ups can bear it only a little bit at a time."