Inspiration

Her obituary said, “She spent 12 academic years in Denton, where she was an associate professor at Texas Woman’s University, and where she mentored several successful doctoral candidates, with whom she maintained warm friendships for the rest of her life.” I was one of those doctoral candidates.

Dr. Peggy Lazarus was one of the finest educators I’ve ever known. She was brilliant (educated at Radcliffe and Bank Street) and had a true understanding and heart for young children (working with Navajo children in Pinon, AZ and studying the way that young children learn to read). Her undergraduate degree was in social anthropology, which explains her bent toward ethnographic research – a love that she passed on to me in her quiet, steady, endearing way.

I never would have made it through the doctoral program without Dr. Lazarus. She held very high expectations, but she also let me know that I was up to the task. She opened up new ways of thinking about young children and their education for me. She was a driving force in the “Camelot” that I considered T.E. Baxter Elementary to have been (though she never set foot on our campus). I carried her sweet smile and quiet encouragement with me through those halls for 10 years.
When I finished my degree, my relationship with Dr. Lazarus did not end (“Call me Peggy,” she said. I couldn’t do it. She would always be Dr. Lazarus to me).

Mack and I are in Santa Fe with Trae and Corie, and we decided to take a day trip to Los Alamos today. I decided to try (again) to look up Dr. Lazarus. I hadn’t heard from her in 7 or 8 years. We usually kept in contact through correspondence a couple of times a year since my graduation and her retirement. I knew that she had moved back to Los Alamos, where she and her husband lived for many years. He was a scientist with the Manhattan Project.

Several years ago, I sent Dr. Lazarus a knitted hat that I had made and felted, adorned with an antique brooch. It just looked like her to me. When I didn’t hear back from her (NEVER would she have failed to send a thank you), I feared that she had passed away. I talked to other former students and scoured the internet for information, which I never found.
I had hoped to visit her – probably in a nursing home, I figured – this afternoon in Los Alamos. Sadly, upon making yet another internet search, I found that she passed away just a couple of months ago, at the age of 91.

I am sad that I missed seeing her one last time. Her obituary said that she was a “gentle, kind and caring woman, who profoundly loved her family and was a steady and endearing support to all of us who loved her so dearly. She was always interested and always curious.” I can’t think of a more accurate or beautiful way to be remembered.

The obituary said that, in lieu of flowers, Dr. Lazarus would undoubtedly get a big kick out of the idea that people take extra time to sit down with a small child to read a book or play with blocks.

Yes. That’s the Dr. Lazarus I knew and loved. Rest in peace, dear, precious mentor. You continue to influence the lives and learning of countless children.

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