REMEMBERING MARGARET JOY TIBBETS
To the Editor:
I believe the first time I saw Margaret Joy Tibbetts was probably sometime in the early 1960s at a Gould Academy commencement ceremony. She was present along with Lt. General James D. Alger as featured speakers. Headmaster Edmond Vachon announced to the students present that they “were in the presence of greatness.” Little did I know that in about a decade, I would come to know Margaret and Jim very well.
After Gould, I went off to college and graduate school, returning to Bethel in the fall of 1973 to finish writing my doctoral dissertation. Margaret at that time had retired from the State Department and assumed the presidency of the Bethel Historical Society, which was about to receive the gift of the Dr. Moses Mason House. A site manager was needed to prepare the period house museum for the dedication and set up an office to be functioning by July 1974 when the building was to be dedicated. General Alger had sponsored an ad in the Boston Globe for this position, but there was no agreement on who should be engaged for this position. It was at this point, that Margaret, who was a Gould classmate of my father’s, called me and tried to recruit me for the job. I listened carefully and thoughtfully considered it, but had my mind set on eventually getting an academic position at a university. Margaret waited a few more weeks and then called me again and once more I refused her request. Finally, with a deadline for the dedication firmly in mind, she tried one more time, telling me that the future of this project was contingent upon having a person to meet the goal of setting up a period house museum and a functioning administrative office. I agreed that it was important to meet this requirement and rather reluctantly consented to go on board for the summer. It was the busiest period of my life up to that point and by July, things were really going well with all kinds of volunteers helping and many donations being received. No one could have been more supportive in all this than Margaret and from that time on, she and I formed a special bond, which for years seemed essential in moving the society ahead on so many fronts.
Needless to say, that “summer” turned into years. One of the early high points was a letter from Sidney Davidson, who had been so important in the effort to restore the Dr. Mason House and its subsequent gift to the society. Because the society had exceeded all expectations that the Bingham trustees had considered essential, they decided to provide a $250,000 endowment fund for the organization. This pleased Margaret immensely and she gave me much credit for this gift, but she really played a large role in its realization. From that time on, Margaret was so proud of the society and its achievements, whether they be in publications, exhibits, programming or other fields of endeavor. She was not an effusive person, but one knew she believed strongly in what the society was doing and supported it financially and as a volunteer helping in so many ways, including writing historical articles and delivering lectures on local history. She strongly endorsed my application in 1980 for the Seminar for Historical Administration then held at Colonial Williamsburg and was thrilled when I was selected for this very competitive month-long intensive experience led by national experts. When I came back from Williamsburg proposing a number of changes to place the organization on a more professional basis, Margaret, as chair of the Board of Trustees, worked hard to see that they were accepted and were fully funded.
With Margaret’s death, the society has lost one of its leading figures, who did so much to bring it to its present level of achievement. I have missed seeing her the past few years as her health declined, but I can never forgot how much she has meant to me as a fellow historian, who has been helped immensely in shaping my views relating to local and regional history by our many conversations over the years. During her remarkable career, Margaret made important contributions to diplomacy, but she never forgot where she came from and we are all the better for her unflagging interest in and devotion to this community and several of its institutions.