Sunday, May 22, 2005

Remembering Maggi

I thought I’d add something that was written recently and that, as Cathy Potler put it, “captured some of [Maggi's] finest characteristics.” Maggi’s friend Gene Palumbo, a journalist living in El Salvador, wrote it for a memorial service for Maggi’s father. Maggi decided not to read it at the service, explaining why in a note to Gene that reflected her characteristic modesty:
I was really touched by your overly generous words. I passed them along to my mother, but we had so many people who wanted to say things directly about my father and their relationship with him that it didn't seem right to include something that focused on me during the ceremony. This may sound strange, but it hadn't really occurred to me before that my somewhat skeptical tendencies in El Salvador might actually have come from listening to my father, who never accepted any dogma (he was expelled from the Young Communists at age 15 for criticizing the Hitler-Stalin pact).
Gretta Siebentritt said Maggi told her that she was pleased by what Gene had written. With that in mind, and with Gene’s permission, I’m reprinting it here:

I spoke only once with Maggi's father, so I can't say I knew him. But if it’s true that "by their fruits you shall know them," he must have been quite a person.

I wonder what kind of intellectual he was. If he was the kind his daughter is, he was the best kind. El Salvador is a place where, too often, and sadly, people take sides in a way that means they stop being self-critical and open. They become predictable. Maggi isn't like that, and wasn't like that when she was here. I wish you could know how helpful, how important that was to so many of us -- and how refreshing it was. If Maggi got some of that from him, he sure did a great job.

I wonder if he helped give her something else: the kind of courage you had to have to go to El Salvador when Maggi did -- right in the middle of the war -- and to go there to do what Maggi did: human rights work on behalf of those who were targeted. On a Sunday afternoon like this, during those war years, you knew where you'd find Maggi: at the prisons, visiting and interviewing people who'd been captured. Some were from the non-government human rights commission; other commission members had been murdered. To be identified with those people – as Maggi surely was by prison and government authorities – meant putting yourself at risk, but that didn't stop her. I’d guess her dad felt very proud of that.

Finally, how many people do you know who, right in the middle of a situation like that, would choose to start a family and raise a child? Richard Popkin's daughter did that. So if it's "like father, like daughter," he must have been quite a guy. I wish I could have known him.

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