Alison Wales recites a poem during a Friday night vigil for Marilyn Pharis, the Santa Maria woman who died after she was brutally attacked in her home last month.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Marilyn Joy Pharis was remembered Friday night as an animal lover, world traveler, reader and much more during a candlelight vigil to mark the life of the Santa Maria resident described as a woman of peace who died due to violence.

More than 50 people gathered at the courtyard of Santa Maria City Hall to reflect on the life the 64-year-old woman, who was beaten and raped in her home last month.

She died eight days later while still hospitalized. 

Some who attended knew Pharis for years, others for only hours, according to Ann McCarty, associate director for the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center.

Many who attended had never met the woman yet showed up Friday to reflect on her life.

“Tonight we come to together in peace, a familiar word for Marilyn, as we’re told that how’s she lived her life,” McCarty said. “It was her mantra, so to speak, with buttons and stickers surrounding her, promoting peace and the courage it took to stand for it.

“Tonight we stand for her,” McCarty said. “Tonight we speak about her. Tonight we grieve together as a community united.”

The Air Force veteran worked at a satellite tracking facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base for 40 years and lived in northwest Santa Maria.

She loved to travel and had been planning a trip to Denmark. To prepare, she was learning the language through a CD player in her vehicle.

Pharis was generous with the time, talents and money, helping charities locally and globally. She also had many medals from her years of participation in Santa Maria’s annual Bull Canyon Run.

A friend clearing Pharis’ house discovered a scribbled list of eight things to accomplish, with the final item being “take an important risk.”

“Marilyn’s list is now complete,” McCarty said. “She risked everything fighting for her life. She showed an incredible amount of strength and determination to all of us who knew her. She can now rest in peace, knowing she gave her all until the very end.”

The ceremony included reflections, poetry readings and singing. A memorial table with her pictures included purple flowers, her favorite color.

Two men have been arrested in connection with the attack as the case attracted nationwide attention because one of the suspects is an undocumented immigrant with a prior criminal history. 

“We are angry and want justice, but tonight we channel our anger and rage into a place of peace and remembrance that lifts up Marilyn’s soul and helps each of us relieve that hurt,” McCarty said. 

As the evening grew darker, McCarty noted the lit candles many in the audience held. 

“Our candles with their flames burning bright are small and easily extinguishable, but they will illuminate our night just as Marilyn’s memory illuminates our soul,” she said. “May their light be a reflection of the generous heart that she had. May they shine long after the night is done as  reminder of her spirit and her passion.”

An advocate who met Pharis in the hospital hours after the attack shared about the woman’s generous spirit. 

Despite her critical injuries from being choked, raped and beaten with a hammer, Pharis reached out a hand to offer comfort to the advocate, she recalled. 

“She was an amazing lady,” Pharis’ advocate said. “She just wanted to move on already, and it was just a couple hours. She was just a very strong lady and I wanted to share.”

The center’s Alison Wales said victims often are confused about the advocate’s role, which is simply to provide support, to hold a hand, to listen and to speak when the victim cannot with a goal of helping in their healing.

“Many times survivors touch and make a difference to their advocate’s lives,” Wales said. “This time, Marilyn, you made a difference to those whom you met.”

Donations in Pharis’ memory may be made to The Animal Clinic, 2650 S. Miller Street, Santa Maria, CA 93455, to a special fund to care for her cat, Tigga’s, future care needs.  

Donations also may be to the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, 1687 W. Stowell Road, Santa Maria, CA 93458 or the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, P.O. Box 148, Lompoc, CA 93438.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.