MAHER--Carlotta. Jill Carlotta Armagnac Maher, bright spirit to countless admirers, an archaeologist, wife, mother, and grandmother, died peacefully in Chicago on December 15, 2020, following complications from a fall. She is survived by her husband of 66 years, David Willard Maher, their children: Philip (Kathleen) and Julia, and their grandchildren: Philip Jr. (Aya Pusic), Cameron Suzanne, and Miguel Felipe Romero. Born April 3, 1933 in New York City, she moved with her mother to a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri at age 12, where she attended the Sunset Hill School. She was awarded a full scholarship to Harvard University (Radcliffe), where she met her husband-to-be and graduated cum laude with an AB in Chemistry. Soon, with two young children, Carlotta and David moved to Chicago, where he practiced law and she worked in a medical practice. In 1966, frustrated in her career, Carlotta answered an advertisement for volunteers at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute (the OI), a preeminent center for Middle Eastern Studies. While working as a museum docent, she began studying hieroglyphics and ancient languages, and in 1976 was invited to join the OI's archaeological team at Nippur in Iraq. Four seasons in the field galvanized her passion for the Middle East. When war in the region forced a pause in the Nippur expedition, Carlotta began to split her time between the OI in Chicago and its research center, Chicago House, in Luxor, Egypt. She would spend more than 50 years working for the OI, both in the field and as an indefatigable fundraiser. In 1997, the OI honored Carlotta with its first James Henry Breasted medallion for extraordinary service. Her work in Egypt acquainted her with people from all walks of life. She spoke Arabic with the locals and she guided countless visitors through Luxor, including dignitaries, business leaders, artists and all who continue to be drawn by the region's history. Her knowledge was enhanced by her innate ability to make others feel welcome and valued. She loved to dance, leading nighttime revels in the desert and discotheques around the world. With David frequently at her side, the girl who spent a solitary childhood in museums became a beloved, radiant personality known affectionately as Carlotta, Queen of the Nile. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
Published in New York Times on Dec. 20, 2020.