We celebrate the life of Dr. Margaret Newton, a pioneering physician, musician, mother, loyal friend, and stalwart Vermonter who passed away peacefully on October 30 at age 92.
Margaret, whose loved ones called her Maggie or Marg, came into the world on July 3, 1928, the eldest child of David Newton and Margaret Young Newton of Windham County, followed by siblings John, Mary, and Michael. She was born in Windsor, Connecticut, where her father chaired the English Department at the Loomis-Chafee School. When she was eight, the family moved to Southern Vermont and founded the Newton School for boys on a rural property that encompassed Hamilton Falls. Maggie and her siblings studied, milked cows, tended chickens and pigs, rode horses, chopped wood, played in Cobb Brook, cross-country skied in winter and scampered shoeless on the dirt roads and through meadows and forests in summer. The Newtons were musical people. Maggie took up cello and loved to sing.
She left home as an adolescent to live with friends in New York state, where she attended the Emma Willard School, graduating in 1945. Three years later, she graduated from Vassar College as an English major. She entered the College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, where she was one of just three women in her cohort and graduated third in her class, in 1954. She coauthored numerous journal articles during her medical career, from "Social Considerations in Medical Education" to "Response of salt-loaded rats to abrupt withdrawal of salt," which amused us. "Marg was the brains of our family," recalls brother Mike. "We loved her and understood her-mostly. She was wonderfully intelligent and she used her good mind quite frequently, and sometimes the rest of us wondered what the hell she was talking about!"
"She had so much curiosity, perspective, and humor," says Meredith "Dithy" Mayer, who, along with her sister, Ann Loftis, was a lifelong friend. "Marg saw the funny part of almost any situation. And her love of music spilled over to those around her. She related to all sorts of things-odd plants, the lame dog down the street, and the exotic neighbor."
Maggie completed her medical residency, followed by a fellowship under the preeminent nephrologist Louis Welt, at the University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where she met and married David Mechanic, a young sociologist from New York City. They relocated to Madison, where Maggie taught at the University of Wisconsin medical school, practiced as a kidney specialist, and gave birth to two sons. The couple divorced eventually, and Maggie moved to Milwaukee. She later resettled in Brattleboro, where she rekindled her passion for the cello and became a member and supporter of the Windham Orchestra and the Brattleboro Music Center. She also joined the West Brattleboro Quaker Worship Group. Founding member and friend Douglas Cox remembers Maggie returning from a music camp with a gift: a t-shirt depicting a loon nesting in the bell of his instrument-a tuba. "It's still one of my favorite shirts. It's just about worn out-I save it for special occasions," he says. "She's left a lot of wonderful memories for a lot of people."
Fellow physician/musician friend Margery McCrum administers a charitable fund Maggie created to support the orchestra and music center. "She made sure there was a full scholarship each year, often for a student who played cello," McCrum says. "She embraced the music community here and supported it wholeheartedly. She was passionate about everything she did and had a great way of getting us all excited about things."
This sentiment is echoed by all who knew her. When Maggie got a bee in her bonnet, there was no stopping her. She would be writing letters to President Nixon to protest his Interior Secretary's lack of concern for the environment, drafting columns for local publications, and editing Windham News & Notes. As part of Vermont Citizen's Campaign for Health and Physicians for a National Health Program, she pushed for universal health care long before President Obama, and backed Bernie before Bernie was cool. "She was very committed," her brother Mike recalls. "And she had a delightful-usually-way of making decisions in circumstances in which other people might have done it differently."
Maggie spent her final years in Northern California to be closer to her son Michael and his family. She is survived by brother Mike, sons Robert (Karen) and Michael (Laura), grandchildren Nikko, Ruby, Madeline, and Lyla, and dozens of nieces, nephews, and cousins. Per her wishes, Maggie's ashes will be returned to the forests where she once played. Memorial plans are not yet determined. (Friends may email email@example.com.) Contributions in Maggie's memory can be made to the Audubon society, Brattleboro Music Center, and Vermont Foodbank.
Published in The Brattleboro Reformer on Nov. 14, 2020.