Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Goodbye Mom.

Margaret Whitestone Riggs 1930-2015

Every generation stands on the shoulders of those who paved the way, and my mother was one of those rare individuals who was a trailblazer. Despite growing up in privilege in the 1940s in a nice house in Bronxville, NY, with a car at 16, piano lessons,a cook and a private school education, she was the only child of two working parents, and I think her vision for her future included giving back to the world. She always wanted to become a doctor, but it was daunting in those days for a woman to excel in the sciences, and to defy traditional expectations of marriage and domesticity.
In pursuit of a degree in biology, she transferred from Gaucher College to the University of Wisconsin, and as luck would have it, went on a blind bridge date with my father. She knew instantly that he was the man she would marry, and brought him back East to meet her parents. My grandmother did not much like this Midwestern boy with the threadbare shoes, and threatened him with a frying pan! But they were married in a small ceremony after graduation, and eventually moved to Hastings in 1957 to raise their three children, and begin a lifelong passion for alpine rock gardening. In fact, she bought her last home sight-unseen, because of the rock ledge, which she and my father converted over the years to a showplace garden of rare and exotic alpine plants, in between traveling all over the world with my Dad to see gardens and enjoy the sights in Russia, China, Turkey, Egypt, Poland, France, and England in her later years.
My mother threw herself into being the best mom possible, learning to cook, driving us around, helping with homework, enjoying coffee with the neighbors and teaching us useful skills: study hard, be nice to everyone and clean your room,which have stood me in good stead all these years. But she yearned for more than just “housewife”, and went back to work in her 40s, taking graduate courses and eventually getting a Masters degree in Human Genetics in 1975 at the newly started program at Sarah Lawrence College. She was fascinated by the issues involved in women's health, and campaigned vigorously for freedom of choice, marching on Saturdays at the clinic in Dobbs Ferry with her friends. She was an ardent supporter of Planned Parenthood, and my parents always worked at the yearly auction in Irvington. In fact, much of her furniture was purchased at the Planned Parenthood auction over the years.
My mom loved her career, and worked as a Genetics counselor until 2 years ago when she retired. She continued to keep up with the latest journals and always knew more than the doctors she worked for, confidently reassuring patients and family alike, armed with knowledge and experience.
My mom was passionately involved with her friends, her kids and her 5 grandchildren, who met weekly for Sunday dinner at her house, where she always fed us and encouraged us all in our pursuit of our dreams, especially scientific endeavors. She was always ready with a baked good for those in need, and called cooking her solace. When times were tough, the smell of banana bread always made you feel better!
My mom was broken-hearted to lose my dad 13 years ago, and in fact had a triple bypass soon after. But she soon adopted two cats, whose antics and predatory habits served no end of worry and amusement, and comforted her so much. It was a challenge to maintain her fabulous garden after my dad died, but she soldiered on, working at her job until 2 years ago when the doctor she worked for retired, playing bridge and keeping busy. She started studying astrophysics a few years ago, and loved to discuss the expanding universe, black holes and cosmic radiation...
My mother was a complicated, generous, brilliant and witty person, who could work a room like nobody I ever saw, befriending and getting the life story of strangers in an instant. She made those around her laugh, and was unfailingly fun to be around, even in times of illness or difficulty. We will miss her laugh and her quick repartee and her reports on the doings of everyone around her. I will miss most her support and encouragement of me, my children and my husband every day.

Jeri Riggs October 20, 2015