Laura L. Carstensen
I am Laura Carstensen, a member of the Psychology Department at Stanford University. Paul, I bring you and your family the deepest sympathies of your colleagues and friends in California. Although they are far away, they are close today in spirit.
Margret was regarded in the research community as a superb scientist. She was internationally renowned, perhaps best known for a program of research on dependency in the elderly in which she demonstrated unequivocally that dependency is socially constituted. In more recent years, she turned her attention to successful aging, to the processes that people use to live life to its fullest. And who better than Margret to apply knowledge and instincts to the understanding of lives lived well?
In addition to her scientific reputation, she was known world-wide as a woman of exceptional dignity and grace. I have never known anyone who filled the many roles a woman fills with such uniform aplomb. She stood by Paul as the wife of a distinguished Max Planck Director, never asking for personal recognition but purely in support of him. She worked as a scientist, side-by-side with her students and colleagues -- the closest colleague, of course, being Paul -- designing experiments to solve puzzles about human behavior. She was a dedicated mother to Boris and Anushka, the two children she so adored. And, she was a friend. I had the great privilege of being her friend.
My friendship with Margret developed out of a longstanding professional collaboration. I first met her in 1979 when I was a graduate student at West Virginia University and she was on the faculty at Penn State University. I nervously telephoned her one day -- cold. She didn‘t know me from Adam. And I asked her if she would work with me to establish a professional group on aging within a research society that had paid little attention to the problems of the elderly. I had called her because I knew her involvement would give such an effort credibility. She was respected enormously and I knew that if she would be involved, the effort would be successful. To this day, I remember that phone call. I couldn’t believe that she not only took the time to listen, she agreed to lend her support. That professional group continues today.
But for Margret and me that contact was the beginning of a relationship that would last until the day she died. She took time with me, she listened to my ideas, she criticized them, she accepted some of them. I learned so very much from her. At first, I clearly viewed her as a mentor, as a scientist I wanted to emulate. And then one day -- I couldn’t say exactly when -- I realized that she was more than a colleague. She had become a dear friend. Sometimes students new to the academy or observers in other walks of life look at those of us who live our lives in the research community and wonder why we do what we do -- working all the time, living lives dictated by grant deadlines and projects. What is sometimes invisible to others is the deep fulfillment in work that stems in part from the fact that work becomes inextricably intertwined with friendships. At best -- and Margret represented the best -- colleagues become part of our families.
Over the years, our conversations began to diverge from research and came to include more personal topics. We discussed our families, our friends, our likes and dislikes. In recent days, I have had flashbacks of preparing meals with her, of visiting St. Petersburg together, of laughing over lunches, and of planning excursions at the end of conferences. I have remembered the sound of her voice over the long-distance lines. I have remembered going shopping with her, always watching closely how she selected clothes -- my gosh, the woman always looked like she just stepped out of Vogue.
Over time, we came to share one another’s joy at family celebrations, and supported one another during trying times. Margret behaved in a way that made relationships complex and real. She held strong opinions, anguished over important problems in everyday life, and she was willing to fight for her beliefs.
It should be a comfort to all of us that because Margret gave so much and so genuinely, she also received a tremendous amount. She enjoyed the truest of relationships. She knew that she was loved by her children. She knew that Paul adored her. And as humble as Margret was, she knew in her heart that she was deeply respected by her friends, her students and her colleagues.
And so today, in addition to paying tribute to a treasured colleague,
I express my personal grief at the loss of one of my closest friends. I
expect that my own world will never be as secure or as stimulating as it
was when she was a part of it. The legacy that Margret leaves behind is
one of living life well, of appreciating what you have while you have it,
and of helping others to do the same. I loved Margret Baltes and I will
miss her every day of my life.