Tribute to Margo MacLeod

Margo MacLeod, who directed Goddard’s BA/MA program from the early 90s to 2001 and the IMA from 2001 to 2008, and who hired most of the current GGI faculty, died peacefully on April 2 after a brief illness at her home in Austin, Texas. Margo was a beloved mentor to many. Below are a few reminiscences and testimonies from current GGI faculty and alums (one of whom also happens to be faculty).

Lise Weil, Faculty:

I recall a cabaret act performed in the Goddard cafeteria some twenty years ago when Margo was director of the BA/MA program. Margo emerged from the kitchen with a garbage bag tied around her head, trailed by a long line of female students similarly hatted, all belting out songs from Sister Act. Margo in a garbage-bag wimple had never looked so perfectly herself. It was clear to me in that moment that a Mother Superior was exactly what she had been, since I first arrived at Goddard, for both faculty and students —and a Mother Superior she would continue to be in the years to come. Margo’s love was big and her vision was spacious. When you came to her with a problem you could be sure it would be considered from all angles (This could be exasperating when you wanted badly for her to take sides.) Margo’s aspiration was always the highest good; she was the least ego-driven leader I have known. She was our Mother Superior.

Karen Campbell, Faculty and alum BA/MA‘96:

Margo was a wonderful advisor who loved to walk and talk – a great way of helping a nervous student to relax into sharing barely formed ideas. My snail-mailed pages were strewn with her purple penned “IR” (Ignorant Reader) – her genial, almost humble way of prodding me to unravel and re-examine my blithe use of jargon. She ruminated alongside my packets for pages, gently proffering different perspectives, encouraging risks – go where I feared. I read and re-read her letters (I still have them now after 25 years). When she later evaluated my progress as a faculty member, she would spend an hour or more chatting, wondering how she could support my development. An expert on Vermont ponds, she’d bring me as deck hand to help launch her beloved handmade boat, and we plunged into some really remote and chilly ones. And – keen to promote environmental health – she had me accompany her on research into Vermont’s first compost development (on an extremely warm summer day!). She even patiently tried to teach me to drive her vast boat of a car, never showing signs of panic when I couldn’t estimate the breadth of the machine as I jerked along narrow winding roads… and then shared hilarious hours reminiscing, her beloved Scotch in hand. When we couldn’t meet in person we’d have long Skype chats. Gosh, there’s so much I miss.

Sue Ann Commissiong, IMA 2007: 

Margo was my mentor at Goddard. Gentle woman…quiet heart and yes a “knowing” that moved so smoothly beyond our time. I am honored to have known her and be touched by such an unforgettable human being…a lady of great heart and spirit. May her journey onward be as bright and evergreen as her genuine smile…

Sally Koering Zimney, IMA 2005:

I am finally taking some time to write about Margo MacLeod– a mentor of mine who passed away recently. Though it’s been years since I’ve seen her – and even then, our time together was so short – she holds a place in my heart as a gentle and wise guide. Margo had an aura about her that both intimidated me and pulled me in. She was my advisor/mentor in grad school, and I remember feeling lucky and nervous that I had been assigned to her. And I will never forget this: Heading into my second semester, I was feeling so overwhelmed by aallll the ideas (a refrain in my life that has continued!)… I felt lost and panicky. She gently (but so clearly and strongly that I had no option to do otherwise!) suggested I go silent for 24 hours so I would stop bouncing around in my brain and focus in. Me, silent? Uh… ok. It was hard. But I still remember the AHA moment, about 22 hours in. Eureka! Finally. I rushed into her office, all red-faced, harried, and wild-eyed and shared with her my insight. She calmly nodded at me, smiled, and said, “Yes.” And then we got to work. As if she knew exactly what I was moving towards. She probably did. She seemed to know everything. And not just all the ‘things’ you’re supposed to know, but big, grand unknowable things, too – and through that radiated this contentment and patience, as if she held the secrets within her. I was all frenetic energy, and she was quiet wisdom. She was what I needed at that part of my journey.

Last year, I was so honored and a little baffled when she reached out to me for advice on some speaking and teaching she was doing. It meant so much to me. I hope I offered a little something of what she needed.

I am thinking of her long-time partner, and friends and loved ones… They have lost a friend. But for some reason I am imagining Margo as content and wise as ever.

Mercy Morganfield, IMA 2005:

I loved Margo. She was my second reader in grad school and my friend after I graduated. Even when she knew she wouldn’t be with us much longer she was calm and graceful. With that beautiful spirit of hers shining. The world was a better place because she was here. Her passing has left a void in my heart. I am so happy to have known her.

This morning I received news that the Director of the college I attended for both undergraduate and graduate work died peacefully yesterday.

Sara Wright, IMA 2002:

Margo MacLeod intimidated me as a student (and I was not young either) but I admired her honesty and integrity. She certainly appeared to be a stern presence; and as I remember her she was always dressed in black.  But I also knew from Lise Weil, one of my feminist/writer professors, that Margo loved animals.

When graduation approached I arrived at Goddard with my little terrier, Star, who was my closest family member. No human family members would witness this most important graduation (As a matter of fact, this late entry into graduate work seemed to be something of a source of ridicule to my grown children. My mother simply dismissed my college work with a chilling silence.)

I am severely dyslexic with numbers and directions; I do everything backwards and navigating the daily world is an unbelievable challenge. I cannot open water bottles or doors; driving is almost an impossible nightmare, and using the computer even today is also a frightening experience, creating mindless anxiety. My heart starts pounding uncontrollably the moment I try to do anything new.

If it hadn’t been for Margo’s approval I wouldn’t have made it through my first semester at Goddard because I was terrified of the computer and submitted all required work by handwriting it. In today’s mechanized world I am a total outsider.

My experience at Goddard with Margo at the helm, (including my experience with Lise Weil whose cat essay motivated me to choose her as an advisor) helped me develop into the writer I have become.

When I arrived for my final graduation I discovered that Margo had given permission for Star and me to approach the podium together to receive my degree. Star was jubilant and barked excitedly when applause began, so the two of us walked up the aisle, obtaining “our” diploma together! What other school official would sanction such a partnership?

I will remain indebted to Margo MacLeod for the rest of my life for this act of unbelievable generosity. Something of Margo’s warm hearted animal spirit will live on through me until I die. Thank you Margo. May the animals you so loved be with you on this next stage of your journey.


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