Salvation Army worker was well known at Pittsburgh International Airport
Marilyn Darnley became an institution at Pittsburgh International Airport.
The Salvation Army worker was a fixture at the terminal for 20 years, but it wasn’t just the costumes she wore on holidays and special Pittsburgh sports occasions that drew travelers to her red kettle.
“She had a beautiful smile. She was humble, and she just had an effect on people,” said Roberta Williams, 75, of Scott, a longtime friend and Salvation Army volunteer. “She was a good listener. She always built people up. She always prided herself in collecting money, but it wasn’t just about that. It was a ministry to her.”
Darnley, 77, of Scott died Feb. 9, 2019, of respiratory failure.
In 2014, the airport adopted a policy banning all solicitations, but Darnley was given a reprieve. Two years ago, Darnley suffered a bad fall at home and had to retire from the Salvation Army and her place at the airport, Williams said. The airport in 2018 began enforcing the solicitation ban.
Darnley was one of the Salvation Army’s few full-time employees, and the only one assigned exclusively to the airport. She was one of the leading kettle collectors, averaging more than $40,000 per year.
Her son, Rick, 49, of Scott said she loved the Salvation Army and the airport.
“She was a people person,” he said. “She’d talk to anybody. She was just bubbly, full of life, and she never ever, ever had a bad thing to say about anybody.”
Darnley was well known to pilots, flight attendants, airport workers and travelers. She developed special bonds with Pittsburgh sports figures, including Steelers and Penguins players. She counted former Steelers Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris as friends, according to her son.
“It was with great sadness that I learned of longtime Salvation Army worker Marilyn Darnley’s passing,” Bettis said. “I am thankful to have shared memories with her. The lasting impact she has made on so many is unmatched by any words that can be written. Her kind spirit will carry on forever.”
Harris said he would miss Darnley.
“Marilyn always brightened my day when I was flying out and always welcomed me home with a bright smile and a warm hello,” he said.
Bob Kerlik, vice president of media relations for the airport authority, said Darnley would wear a turkey hat for Thanksgiving, antlers with bells on them at Christmas and black and gold regalia for Pittsburgh sports teams. She also served as an information center for airport travelers.
“She knew how to get to the closest bathroom, how to get to baggage claim, where to get a sandwich,” he said. “She would lighten the mood.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .