Donietta "Dee" Bickley, 89, a former secretary who began running marathons at age 72, died of septicemia Sept. 2 at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham. She lived in College Park.
Mrs. Bickley, who did not own a car, loved to walk -- and would as long as it was within 10 miles. She made her first 25-mile walk in 1982 for the March of Dimes. In 1986, she completed the first of her nine Marine Corps marathons.
She entered many other local races and was a nationally ranked age-group runner for a number of years until she developed lymphedema in 1998. Her best time for a marathon was 5 hours, 43 minutes.
She trained by running four to 12 miles in College Park. In a 1998 Washington Post article, she discussed her routine, which sometimes included fast-walking to her sister's house, the grocery store or other errands.
"I don't like to brag, but I'm everybody's role model," she said then.
Mrs. Bickley received sponsorship from Nike and had a house full of walking and running shoes, said her son, James "Jack" Bickley. After trying to discourage his mother from entering her first marathon, he became her coach.
Born Donietta Scarcia in Pietracamela, Italy, she immigrated to the United States with her mother when she was 3 months old. The oldest of 11 children, she was raised in the coal-mining town of Saxton, Pa. She attended Thompson's Business College in York, Pa., and married James I. Bickley, a mechanical engineer, in the 1930s.
In the mid-1950s, Mrs. Bickley worked as a secretary to the president of Woodward & Lothrop department store in Washington. She then traveled with her husband to his Air Force posting in Libya and worked as a secretary with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Tripoli. She also spent three years at the International School of Milan and about 18 months in Rome.
In the early 1960s, she worked at the University of Maryland. Later in the 1960s, she served as a parking enforcement officer for College Park. At the same time, she assisted her husband in his engineering consulting business.
Over the years, Mrs. Bickley also volunteered at the university and audited classes through the Golden Identification program. She took a gerontology practical lab class that involved working with nursing home residents, and she later volunteered with that department until she became ill. She also volunteered in the language house and passed out condoms at the health clinic.
She was well-known on the university's campus and in the College Park community.
"She would pick up the Diamondback [campus newspaper] and deliver them to older people," her son said. "She made pizzelli, those wafflelike cookies. She would make tons of those and deliver them to the bank and to city hall and various people at the university."
Mrs. Bickley loved opera and volunteered at the Kennedy Center in the 1980s. She had a keen memory and was an authoritative source of information for the family, often being able to recall details from the lives of her brothers and sisters and 56 nieces and nephews.
Her husband of more than 50 years died in 1988.
In addition to her son, who lives in Alexandria, survivors include three children, Cynthia Ann Bickley-Green of Greenville, N. C., Joseph W. Bickley of College Park and John E. Bickley of Issaquah, Wash.; two brothers, Edward Scarcia of Beltsville and Glen Scarcia of Port Angeles, Wash; two sisters, Elizabeth Figard of Columbia and Mary Jean Reed of Adelphi; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.