Marilyn Adair blazed trail for women in Tigard-Tualatin District

Marilyn Adair was an avid hker, mountain climber and skiier. She died in September after a battle with ALS, Lou Gherig's disease. Marilyn Adair, the first female principal in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, died last week at the age of 71.

Adair, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gherig’s disease, died peacefully at home with her family on Sept. 26.

Adair began her career with the school district in 1974. In her 23 years of service, she held several administrative jobs, including the district’s director of elementary programs and director of student services.

She also carved a path for other female educators and will be remembered as Tigard-Tualatin’s first female principal, taking the helm at Charles F. Tigard Elementary School in 1979.

“She had to blaze a trail in some ways,” said district spokeswoman Susan Stark Haydon. “At the time that she was principal, there were two other women administrators, and all the other administrators were male. They each had to navigate their way through a system where everyone was used to having men making decisions.”

Adair’s son, Jeff Chaidez, said his mother’s position as the first female principal wasn’t something she thought much about.

“I don’t think that it was as big of a deal for her,” he said. “For her, it was all about the kids and the community and the teachers. Being at that higher level just enabled her to have more of an influence on all of that.”

Chaidez said though his mother didn’t think much about the significance of her position, she and others like her made a lasting impact.

“They had to break up that old school thinking,” he said. “They destroyed it and made something better and more up-to-date for the kids.”

As principal, Adair made a point to hire male teachers in what had been a female-dominated position, Chaidez said. She also did away with the large imposing desk in her office.

Like a lot of what she did, Chaidez said the small change was intentional.

“That way people could be comfortable,” he said. “Her desk was always against the wall, instead of this huge desk in the middle of the room that the kids would have to sit in front of. Other administrators got their power by sitting behind big desks, but she got her power by doing the right thing.”


Adair started her career in education in San Francisco as a kindergarten teacher before working in several Portland-area school districts, including Portland Public Schools and Forest Grove.

Adair, who learned to speak Spanish in the Peace Corps, worked to establish physical education classes in Venezuela and later worked with a program for Spanish-speaking students in Forest Grove before coming to what was then the Tigard School District in 1974.

Chaidez said his mother’s love of education stemmed from one simple principle.

“She liked kids,” he said. “She saw that every one of them had an opportunity for an education, and she wanted to see that they were all getting it.”

Adair served as principal for many years before eventually moving to the district office, where she served in several capacities.

By the time Adair retired from the district in 1998, she had served as the district’s Title 1 coordinator, an elementary school vice principal, principal at C.F. Tigard and Bridgeport elementary schools, program director for the schools that feed into Tualatin High School, as well as director of elementary programs, director of student services and director of staff development.

“She probably had more jobs in the administration than anyone else,” Stark Haydon said.

Stark Haydon called Adair an innovative educator and exceptional leader. 

“Most of all, she was smart and fun-loving and had an extremely irreverent sense of humor,” she said. “(Those were) all qualities she maintained throughout her life — despite the ravages of her illness.”

Chaidez agreed.

“She laughed every day,” he said.

Adair spent the last 20 years living in John’s Landing.

An avid gardener, Adair volunteered at a community garden in Southeast Portland that donated produce to needy families in addition to tending her own large vegetable garden.

“She had probably the biggest vegetable garden that close to downtown,” Chaidez said, laughing.

An avid outdoorswoman, Adair ran the Hood to Coast relay numerous times and enjoyed cycling, skiing, hiking, traveling and dragon boat racing.

“For her, it was about doing things,” Chaidez said. “Rather than sitting and talking to a kid, she would take them someplace or do something.”

Her last days were spent with family.

Adair is survived by her two children, Lisa and Jeff Chaidez.

A memorial service is planned at McMenamin’s Edgefield hotel at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10.

Edgefield is located at 2126 S.W. Halsey St. in Troutdale.

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