Marta Maria Marschalko, 80, a Hungarian emigre, former administrator with the National Geographic Society and a consummate Washington hostess, died Oct. 25 of complications from breast cancer at Carriage Hill nursing home in Bethesda. A longtime resident of Arlington and the District, she was living in Bethesda at the time of her death.
Mrs. Marschalko was born in Budapest and received a bachelor's degree at the University of Hungary. When the Soviet army invaded her native land in 1956 to put down a grass-roots uprising against communist rule, Mrs. Marschalko made the agonizing decision to flee with her 4-year-old daughter. She left behind her elderly parents and her first husband.
She paid a great deal of money to secure a place for her daughter and herself in the back of a milk truck. They were among a group of 11 hiding in the truck amid containers of milk. The driver followed his route from village to village and managed to get the group as close to the Austrian border as he dared before leaving them to walk the rest of the way.
A young man in the group carried Mrs. Marschalko's daughter until they got within sight of the border. "I'm going to give your daughter to you now," he told Mrs. Marschalko, "because if I get shot, I don't want her to be on my back."
Mrs. Marschalko and her daughter made it safely into Austria, and then, a few weeks later, immigrated to Toronto. There, she worked as a secretary by day and a waitress by night.
After nearly a decade in Canada and a year in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, she moved to the Washington area. In 1968, she became executive assistant to the president of the Hungarian Reformed Federation of America.
In 1971, she took a position as office manager and assistant to the chief of geographic art at the National Geographic Society. For the next 20 years, she held a variety of positions, including administrative assistant to the Committee for Research and Exploration in the office of Melvin M. Payne, chairman of the committee and later president and chief executive of the society. Mrs. Marschalko also was senior administrative assistant to the editor of National Geographic Research, the society's scientific publication. It gave her great pride to see her name added to the National Geographic Society masthead in 1986.
In 1975, she took a leave of absence and joined her third husband in Moscow, where he was vice president of the American Express travel division and where she worked for the U.S. Embassy commercial office. She returned to the National Geographic Society a year later, where she remained until her retirement in 1991.
From 1991 to 1995, she was the academic program director for the Royal Viking World Affairs Program at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Her duties involved organizing the program's lecture series each year in conjunction with the cruise line's ports of call.
A world traveler, gourmet cook and lover of classical music -- not to mention an avid swimmer -- her talents as a hostess found expression through her involvement with Meridian International Center. She often hosted festive dinners spiced with stimulating conversation for scholars, artists, diplomats and other international visitors in town to participate in the center's activities.
She also was a private tutor of Hungarian language and culture for Americans traveling to Hungary and a resource for Hungarian-speaking travelers who found themselves lost and bewildered at Dulles International Airport.
Her marriages to Dr. Tamas Fitz, Alexander deGaulland and John Marschalko ended in divorce.
Survivors include her daughter from her first marriage, Christina Fitz of Washington.