A Woman of Valor: Marilyn Klinghoffer Looks Beyond Her Husband’s Murder

The world has had only fleeting glimpses so far of Marilyn Klinghoffer, widow of Leon Klinghoffer, murder victim of the Achille Lauro terrorists.

But this is about to change. Marilyn intends to make a statement and appearance after his funeral service and traditional shiva period. Then the public will get a better impression of what her friends and associates have seen for years: a woman of exceptional courage, intelligence, determination and sensitivity to others.

A recent incident is typical. Marilyn has been a valued member of our company staff since 1972, and I visited her early this week to convey our affection and support, talk about plans which will be announced soon and just chat. At the end, we discussed the tremendous media pressures, public attention, genuine support and outright curiosity. I offered her any “cover” to run off and hide for a few days.

She looked me in the eye. “You know me by now,” she said. “I would never run and hide.”

This recalls another quality of Marilyn Klinghoffer. But first some background.

Marilyn’s first job in our publishing firm was as part-time circulation clerk. She was full of energy and intelligence. Leon had gone from operation of Klinghoffer Supply into manufacturing. Her daughters were grown, and Marilyn was seeking a career.

She climbed the ladder in circulation, worked her way into a personnel assistant’s job and by March 1976 had been promoted to assistant personnel director, second in command, in a company with a reputation for exceptional personnel standards. Her rapid growth and series of achievement are too staggering to be listed here.

In addition to the heavy burden of interviewing, testing, hand-holding, trouble-shooting and problem-solving in a company growing from 100 to 400 employees, Marilyn was given considerable responsibility in an ongoing effort that I’ll call “yuppie development.”

In our series of training and development efforts for many bright young professionals in our firms, I teach some classes. I need someone unafraid to post-interview the students and give me an honest critique. It’s not always easy to come back to the co-founder and executive vice president of a publishing firm and tell him what he did wrong in this morning’s classroom. Nobody wants to offend the boss.

Marily added that whole assignment to her job burden eight or nine years ago — organization, preparation and post-class critique of our editors’ and new salespersons’ training series. I wouldn’t dare assign anyone else. Marilyn is thorough, professional, sensitive to the needs of each individual, and as candid as necessary, whenever necessary, with any and all VIPs.

Another career aspect tells more about Marilyn’s special qualities. Her files are filled with letters from numerous job applicants — even those she did not hire. Regardless of time pressures, she takes the time to discuss job directions and alternatives with applicants who, for whatever reason, could not fit our needs. Here’s a typical letter to my brother Larry, president of the company:

“Your personnel manager, Mrs. Klinghoffer, was extremely helpful, patient and encouraging. After reading my resume and writing samples, she was able to suggest two fields (one of which I had never thought about) which she felt most suited my talents. She was gracious and generous with time and advice. Never have I felt more at ease than in this interview with an absolutely charming lady.”

Although Marilyn’s own personnel file is filled with such adjectives as “charming,” “gracious” and even “aristocratic,” her associates were not at all surprised to read that she had spat in the faces of the murderers when identifying them in Italy, then recalled the incident to President Reagan when he telephoned her last week. She is a fighter when pressed; she will have more to say on her own after the mourning period.

Still another quality which truly inspired her many friends and associates was the devotion to Leon. Despite the strokes which began disabling him in the late 1970s, the Klinghoffers continued to attend company gatherings, weddings and other functions, and together met the logistical problems of his disability with grace and dignity.

After getting Marilyn’s okay to write this little profile, I checked her first resume and found more facts I had never known. Despite family and business needs, she has been an involved “doer” in Jewish and social causes. The credits include B’nai B’rith, president of an Adler Memorial Fund, president of the Stuyvesant Cancer Care chapter, and service in various election campaign committees.

What’s the reaction of a few hundred business friends and colleagues when Marilyn’s life is suddenly changed by this nightmarish experience? Probably it’s the same anger, followed by new sense of purpose, which has been heard from thousands of others.

But in the case of those who know and love the Klinghoffers, and the valiant woman who is carrying on, the feeling is more intense, as is the desire to derive something meaningful from the experience. There

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