Peggy Alferez, 1927-2005
It was 1952. Margaret Mary "Peggy" Selway had come to New Orleans to visit her long-lost father, whom she hadn't seen since she was a child. Devoted to literature, music and the arts, she was naturally drawn to the French Quarter, where she happened upon a reception at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop. Her porcelain skin, ice-blue eyes and straight blond hair shone against her black velvet dress, attracting the attention of the dark, handsome man carving the ham -- with a machete.
He was Enrique Alferez, the Crescent City's most celebrated sculptor. Mexican-born, decades older, divorced -- many times, in his telling -- he was the embodiment of bohemian ideals. She was a registered nurse, born in Harrisburg, Pa., in 1927, with a slightly patrician accent informed by the years she'd spent working in a Boston hospital.
Impulsively, Alferez asked to kiss her. Impulsively, she agreed. After a year of wooing, she accepted his proposal of marriage, and so was born one of New Orleans' legendary unions.
No one can recall Enrique without recalling Peggy by his side, and vice versa.
"I think she truly lived for him, with him and by him," said their only child, Dr. Tlaloc Alferez.
"She was a dynamo, the classic artist's wife, the keeper of the flame," New Orleans Museum of Art director John Bullard said.
"He cast a giant shadow, and she was happy to live in that shadow," friend Charlie Ferguson said.
"You couldn't separate Peggy from 'Rique. She was his protector," art benefactor Dotty Coleman said.
Once married to Enrique, Peggy never returned to nursing. Instead, in their Vieux Carre apartment, later their home in Mexico, and finally their studio-home in a church building on 8th Street, she was the artist's other self. Where he had no business sense, she was able to pinch pennies. Where he was too volatile to cultivate galleries and clients easily, she was socially adept. Where he was a room-filling raconteur, she was content to bathe quietly in his glory.
But there was another Peggy. She was the rapacious reader, consuming countless books and periodicals, feeding her insatiable need for knowledge of current events. A fiery liberal, she was a civil rights proponent, a Vietnam War protester and pro-choice supporter. She was the one who could recall every detail of the articles she'd read in The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair and The Times-Picayune.
After Enrique died in 1999, she dedicated her time to preserving her late husband's memory, arranging for exhibits and sales, keeping his studio just as he'd left it.
Peggy, 78, was in her small bedroom adjoining the studio on the night after Hurricane Katrina struck. She apparently fell, which caused a brain hemorrhage. When her daughter, Tlaloc, found her, Peggy was semi-comatose.
On the Wednesday after the storm, Tlaloc's fiance, James Woods, helped place Peggy on an improvised stretcher, then in the family car. She was admitted to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, where she died Sept. 10.
Peggy was cremated as per her wishes. Her ashes will be mixed with Enrique's.
Published in The Times-Picayune.