In her last two months of life, Margaret Rae Ellingson read stories every night to her infant granddaughter, Lucy.
But her wild imagination and taste for the absurd transformed a simple tale like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” into Goldilocks trespassing on federal land and illegally picking flowers when she stumbled onto the bears’ abode.
Ellingson, an English instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College for 27 years, died Jan. 22 of pancreatic cancer at her Santa Rosa home. She was 69.
Thousands of students took her classes in literature, critical thinking and creative writing, and Ellingson — known as Meg — inspired many to pursue careers in writing or journalism.
Ellingson regarded English as an “essential tool” for students in all fields, and taught literature and writing as a “mechanism for self-discovery and expression,” said her daughter, Kate Ellingson of Portland, Ore.
She published several short stories and left behind a lengthy, unfinished novel, titled “Island on the Other Side,” a love story set during the 1960s political turmoil and cultural tension in Greece, one of many countries she visited.
“Meg was a first-rate stylist, passionate in her themes, very aware of social and political issues, writing with a pared-down style,” said Barbara Baer, a friend since the two met in a women’s writing group in the 1980s.
At SRJC, Ellingson encouraged male veterans from the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars to write and publish their work, Baer said.
In 1996, she nominated Greg Sarris’ book, “Grand Avenue,” a collection of stories based on his childhood in Santa Rosa, as a “work of literary merit” and required reading for introduction to literature students.
Sarris, a Sonoma State University professor and chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, said that was his opportunity to meet “a marvelous, marvelous woman” who shared his teaching profession.