Obituary of Margaret Catherine Blizard
Margaret Catherine Blizard, a retired educator in the State College Area School District, passed away in late April, 2021, at home in State College, PA. She was 77.
Margaret's parents, Reginald Leslie Wilson, a soccer and rugby playing standout and navigator of Mosquito fighter-bombers in WWII, born in Swansea, Wales and Dorita Margaret Beasant, a nurse born in Bristol, England, married early in the war. Margaret was born a few months before D-Day in 1944. She grew up in a rural setting in the south of Wales surrounded by a golf course and sheep fields. It was ideal for play and exploration by the kids on Tennyson Lane in Llanwern. During this time, Margaret also immersed herself for several years in intense training in the swimming pool but her nascent national and international swimming career was scotched when she decided that she wanted to lead a more normal social life; it left her with strong muscles and broad shoulders that would carry her erect throughout her life.
The Wilsons moved to a more urban setting (Newport) to be closer to St. Julian's, Margaret's all-girls high school, where she thrived and became co-head girl. Her headmistress told her that, as a woman, many careers were closed to her and she should trim her sails accordingly. Margaret, however, followed her own star and excelled at the University of Wales in nearby Cardiff where she continued her swimming under more relaxed circumstances and took an Honours degree in Zoology. She succeeded Neil Kinnock, a future Labour Party leader, as President of the Student Union.
Anticipating a teaching career, Margaret earned a Diploma in Education and taught Zoology for a year at Caerleon Teacher's Training College near her hometown of Newport. About that time, she met her husband-to-be, David, an Englishman from Hastings who was studying for a PhD in Psychology. Maggie (his preferred diminutive) and David married in 1968 and set sail for the United States on the SS Bremen. David planned to do a postdoctoral fellowship at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine in Behavior Genetics. The Bremen encountered a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic so, entering the Hudson on the west side of Manhattan, the sunrise in the east through urban canyons was a welcome sight; the trip on a Greyhound bus to Bar Harbor gave the couple time to regain their land legs.
Not so welcoming was the fact that the State of Maine refused to recognize Margaret's Honour's degree in Zoology so she could not teach without taking more courses. Not to worry, she took a technical position in the Animal Production side of the lab followed by a job in early childhood education in a church-associated pre-school and started a new career.
Two years later, the couple moved to New York City where another post-doc at Rockefeller University awaited David. Margaret promptly knocked on the door of the Children's Television Workshop (Sesame Street) and landed a job organizing their nationwide Model Viewing Centers intended to show how the program could be used to support early childhood education. This was an exciting and challenging opportunity and suited to Margaret's already well-established social strengths and organizing abilities. One negative experience during her extensive travel for Sesame Street was when she became the recipient of abusive language as she dined with African American co-workers in a restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi. Her experience at Sesame Street was overwhelmingly positive, however, including the legacy of when her secretary at Sesame Street married Carol Spinney (Big Bird). Margaret was later able to use this little nugget when asked to reveal something interesting about her past in get-to-know-you social groups at work and other settings, i.e "my secretary married Big Bird!"
Following David's appointment at New York University Medical Center, Maggie and David moved into congenial NYU housing in Greenwich Village and lived there during the births of Benjamin Andrew (1975) and Stephen John "Bo" (1978). Maggie completed a Master's degree in Special Education at NYU in the mid-seventies and began a lifelong interest in autism while working at the League School in Brooklyn which had been started by Carl Fenichel, a pioneer in the field. She recruited a friend, Mary Jane Conte from Sesame Street and another from NYU community, Marcia Lowenstein, to form a team at League School and described the collegial way they worked together as one of the most rewarding experiences of her life. A chance encounter with Suki Schorer of the New York City Ballet in a child psychology class provided her with tickets to performances, starting Maggie on a lifelong love of dance.
David took a job at Wake Forest University Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, in 1980. Margaret worked in a private school setting for 2 years, and then joined the Winston-Salem Forsyth County school system, after qualifying in school psychology at Wake Forest University. She formed strong, enduring relationships in the school psychology group and used her well-developed sense of self to project confidence, professionalism and above all, a sense of caring and child-advocacy in often fraught parent-teacher conferences. These were the personal hallmarks that she was known for throughout her public school career.
Maggie's commitment to her family was absolute, reflecting her parents' and community's commitment to her as she grew up in Wales. Most summers she would take her beloved boys home to England and Wales or host one or the other set of parents in North Carolina or at a lakeside cabin in rural Maine which the family had purchased in the early seventies. Sometime during the mid-eighties, seeking a liberal setting in which to introduce the boys to religion, the family joined the Unitarian/Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem, initiating an enduring attachment to UU-ism and to individual members of the congregation in that organization. She loved the music, sang in the choir and was a committed member of women's groups.
Toward the end of the eighties David accepted a position in his special field of research at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. After a short period, while Ben finished high school in North Carolina, Margaret joined David and Stephen (Bo) in State College. She was fortunate to land a job in the Special Education department in the State College Area School District, starting a rewarding 20-year career in that organization. She helped found a special class for individuals on the autism spectrum and then worked as a school psychologist, mainly in kindergarten and elementary grades, in a variety of schools in the district for the rest of her career. It was in this professional setting that she flourished, developing warm, productive relationships with teachers, counselors, principals, children, and parents as well as her colleagues in the Special Education department. She was elected to represent the teachers' union in its contract negotiations with the School Board. One of her delights was to play the Queen of England in elementary school study units on the British Isles which enabled her to have fun with the children and indulge her own interest in the British Royal family. She continued her interest in Unitarian/Universalism during this period becoming a strong supporter of the UU Fellowship of Centre County and an enthusiastic supporter of its programs and interest groups.
Margaret was a member of the Boalsburg ladies, an informal group of professional women and the local Weaver's Guild, reflecting her love of texture and color and a hobby begun in New York. She belonged to several book discussion groups which enhanced her great love of reading. The friends in these groups were grateful for the interesting discussions, laughter, love, and caring shared by Margaret during their many years together. During this time Margaret and David traveled widely together and kept in touch with friends in France, Japan and other countries where they had experienced memorable exchanges.
In 2011, purchase of a winter home in Stuart, Florida opened a new chapter in Maggie's creative interests. Always interested in the color and texture involved in weaving personal and household articles (which she sold in the Art Alliance in Lemont), she developed an interest in ceramic art aided by Monika Modest, one of the Boalsburg ladies. She was excited to work with the African American community both young and old in Stuart in several public art projects and was able to involve many members of her condominium community in social networks supporting minority youth in Stuart. Visits to the Miami City Ballet in West Palm Beach recharged her fascination with dance and led to many friendships in the process. Her leadership ability was recognized by her serving on the board of the condominium association. Central to her enjoyment of Florida's Treasure Coast was her love of the sea and the Atlantic littoral as well her lifetime interest in flowers, birds, trees and all things zoological which her undergraduate training had nurtured and informed. Digital photography enabled her to bring many of these elements into her home and she filled many albums and frames with reminders of her adventures.
When Maggie was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma in 2015 and given a dismal prognosis, she made the decision to pursue some of the aspirational trips she had planned to make when she retired. Despite considerable pain resulting from various treatments, she and David traveled on cruises to Mexico, Central America, the Bahamas, Alaska, and went on a snorkeling trip to the Cayman Islands. It was in the Cayman Islands where Maggie swam back to shore against a strong current and sent out the scuba team to rescue her hapless husband; he insisted that he was just fine but somehow seemed to be in a fixed relation to the shore well down current from the exit point. On trips to Italy and Iceland, the mini tours they took were led by fine, funny guides who contributed to memorable experiences in each country. Finally, the couple traveled to the Lake District in England and to Maggie's beloved Wales where she ascended Mt. Snowdon and shouted invective against cancer from the summit.
When the disease treatments became too much for Margaret to sustain, she chose to leave this life on her own terms at home. She was cared for by her loving husband and comforted by visits from her two sons and their families; she was helped enormously by many close friends, neighbors, the UUFCC caring committee and wonderful nurses and aides from Grane hospice organization. She died in late April and was cremated the next day, according to her wishes. A memorial service is planned when Covid restrictions are lifted.
Margaret is survived by her husband David, two sons, Benjamin Andrew of Oakland, CA and Stephen John (wife, Amy Brown) of Philadelphia; 3 grandsons (James Clymer-Blizard, Sidney Blizard, [Stephen] and Benjamin Oliver Blizard-Weil [Benjamin]) James Clymer-Blizard's mother, Christianne Clymer of Philadelphia; Benjamin Oliver's mother, Chloe Weil of Berkeley, CA; a maternal cousin, Susan; her daughters, Linda (Steve, son Sam) all in Rugby, England and Hazel (husband Rupert, son Liam and daughter Isla, London, England).
Join Margaret in supporting: Planned Parenthood, weareplannedparenthoodaction.org; Glide, glide.org; State College Food Bank, scfoodbank.org and Leiomyosarcoma Support and Direct Research Foundation, www.Lmsdr.org.To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Margaret Blizard, please visit Tribute Store
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