Del Mar philanthropist and cancer survivor seeking volunteers, donations to make prom special for teens in need

Dee Dee Marquette (Photo: Jon Clark)
Dee Dee Marquette (Photo: Jon Clark)

By Marlena Chavira-Medford

Staff Writer

Seated at a café patio on Camino Del Mar in Del Mar, Dee Dee Marquette holds a stuffed three-ring binder. It’s filled with letters and newspaper clippings that chronicle her life, a story that reads more like a page out of movie script.

Marquette is, in a word, extraordinary. To say she’s worn many hats would be an understatement. She’s been a successful business owner, writer, credit counselor, private investigator, diplomat, motivational speaker, legal counsel, consumer advocate, jewelry designer, and talent scout. In addition to living with multiple sclerosis, she has also survived five types of cancer.

“No matter what I’ve been doing, or what I’ve been facing, my philosophy in life has always been to focus on helping other people,” she said. “If we focus on ourselves, we ultimately dwell on our ourselves. But when you learn to fight for others, there’s strength in that. Helping other people has always been my passion.”

Most recently, that passion has been creating storybook-like prom nights for teenage girls facing financial hardships. The mission first pulled at Marquette’s heart a few years ago when she was volunteering as legal counsel for Torrey Pines High School, where her son was a student. She soon realized that even in a seemingly well-to-do area, many families did not have expendable dollars for prom, which Marquette said “these days can be like paying for a mini-wedding.” So, she got to work finding donated gowns, and negotiating with local business owners to get them free or discounted spa services, limousine rides, photography, and meals.

It’s been five years, and though her son has since graduated, Marquette is still helping teenage girls— and in fact, she has broadened her scope to include a few neighboring areas. She said with the economy taking a nosedive, the need has only grown. Many families may not be near the poverty line, but times are tough nonetheless, so Marquette makes it clear that she’s open to helping anyone, whatever their financial situation.

“I promise each of these girls that I will cover everything, from head to toe,” Marquette said, even if that means she has to come out-of-pocket herself. And when these girls show up for their day of pampering, she sees to it that each girl is treated with the same dignity as other clients would be. “This is their day. I want to make a girl’s dreams come true. If that means I have to go the extra mile, then OK.”

Marquette is able to help about 40 girls a year, but with medical bills racking up due to her cancer treatments, her efforts are limited. She is now looking to the community in hopes of finding donated gowns, shoes, jewelry, or professionals who are willing to offer their prom-related services, including makeup, hair, nails, facials, photography, videography, limo rides and meals. She is also hoping to expand the operation to include teenage boys in need, so tuxedo donations or discounts on tuxedo rentals are also welcome.

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