Wallace was Fairmont fan

FAIRMONT – The entertainment world was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Marcia Wallace last week. Fairmont resident Bryan Peterson, a close friend of Wallace, described himself as devastated.

“She is the story of the small town girl that makes good and never changes,” he said of Wallace. “She had her share of tragedies, but she took those tragedies in a humorous way and helped people deal with their own tragedies … Her life was about humor and hope.”

The actress best known as “Carol” from the Bob Newhart show and as the voice of teacher Edna Krabapple on the Simpsons died Friday of a systemic infection.

“The family is trying to get the word out that she did not die from cancer,” Peterson said. “She had been one of the primary spokeswomen for breast cancer awareness month, and she always devoted a huge amount of time to this. She had been 27 or 28 years in remission, and she always wanted to give people hope that cancer can be beaten.”

While Wallace gave many speeches in medical communities, Peterson said she most enjoyed doing presentations and book signings, as she did in Fairmont in May 2012.

“She said that was probably one of the best book signings she ever did, because the people were so interested in her,” Peterson said. “She loved that there were so many people there who remembered the Newhart show, and the younger people there who followed The Simpsons. She remembered a woman who she talked to who was fighting breast cancer and also had an adopted son, because she had faced the same thing.”

Wallace was so charmed by Fairmont that she had planned to make another visit. But the chain of events that led to her death started with a misstep in July.

“She was always an animal lover, so she had this cat,” Peterson said. “She’d got up from her desk and stepped backward and tripped over this cat, and she fell backwards and as it turned out, she broke her back; she had four cracked vertebrae.”

As her vertebrae healed, her torso was kept in a brace. But the brace created a sore on her waist that became an abscess, and led to the systemic infection.

“I spent a week with her in August, and she was still planning to do a speaking gig in Omaha, and then Iowa, and she was going to come back up here,” Peterson recalled. “But by the end of that month, she knew she had to cancel.”

Peterson and Wallace had a 30-plus year friendship, having met when working on the opening of the Henry Fonda Theater in California.

“When we came together, me being a small-town Minnesota boy and her being a small-town Iowa girl, our personalities just clicked,” Peterson said.

Peterson recalls being the emcee for Wallace’s wedding reception, getting many of the famous people in attendance to get up and share some off-the-cuff happy and funny anecdotes for the couple. Peterson also helped Wallace organize a fundraiser with nearly all the Newhart cast members when Wallace’s husband was dying of pancreatic cancer.

“With 30 years of friendship, she knew my family, I knew her family,” Peterson said. “We helped each other out on various projects. She always wanted to support small-town arts and projects. That’s why when I suggested she come to Fairmont, she loved the idea. And after she did, she always talked about how much she loved it here and wanted to come back.”

Perhaps it was because deep down, she remained a small-town girl.

“She was not a standoffish celebrity,” Peterson said. “She included everyone. If she liked you, you were considered a friend, and she made friends with everyone. People identified with her life story; she had tough times, but she kept going and making things happen. That’s something we can gain hope from.”