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Margaret Gilleo - John Samuel Tieman

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Axar.az presents an article "Margaret Gilleo" by John Samuel Tieman.

Sometimes, I hear a piece of modern orchestral music, and I think to myself, “Margaret would hate that. But – she could always surprise me.” Our dear, dear friend, Margaret.

Margaret died on June 8th. She had pancreatic cancer. The last time my wife and I visited her, she was unconscious and completely unresponsive. She died at age 84.

A lot of well-meaning folks tell me and my wife, “Everything will be OK.” Margaret died. And it isn't OK. It's sad. It's tears. And it isn't OK. The pain has begun to subside. But it isn't going to be OK. Phoebe, my wife, and I have known Margaret for thirty-three years. There were beautiful tributes to Margaret in both “The New York Times” and the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch”. It's taken me since June to write this.

Margaret could be alternatively charming and formidable. We met at a demonstration against the first Gulf War. I was a speaker. There were hecklers. It was Margaret who shut up the hecklers by telling them, "He's a Vietnam veteran, and deserves the right to speak." I just thought it was my brilliant oratory that silenced those folks, but, no.

We did many things over the years. But I often think of Margaret and Chuck, her husband, as our symphony buddies. Some of my fondest memories are of those evenings when Margaret, who played piano, and I – I used to play clarinet and saxophone professionally – would pair off, and discuss, musician to musician, what we had heard. Going to the symphony will never be the same.

Margaret was deeply involved in politics. Around St. Louis, Margaret is known as the "Ladue Sign Lady". Her wealthy suburb, Ladue, wanted her to take down an anti-war sign. She had violated a municipal ordinance that forbade virtually all yard signs. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. She turned an issue about signage into a freedom-of-speech showdown. She won. In 1991, she told the “Post-Dispatch”, “I consider myself extremely patriotic. I love this country. I love the flag, and I would never burn it. But I reserve the right to dissent.”

I remember listening to her tell of being at the Supreme Court. As she told the tale, she came to the part where, with ceremony and dignity, the Marshall of the Court announced, “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court Of The United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting.” And then, “The Court will hear arguments now in Number 92-1856, the City of Ladue vs. Margaret Gilleo.” I was awed. Our friend did this.

Margaret ran for Congress but didn't get the Democratic nomination. Throughout her life, her most profound cause was probably the environment. It was here that her politics and her spirituality intersected. Margaret saw God in nature. Her approach to environmentalism began with the mystical, and from that extended to the law and the policy. To be honest, I never really understood her mysticism. I regret I didn't listen more.

She was erudite. She had two master's degrees, one from Columbia University and the other from the Aquinas Institute Of Theology, a Dominican school here, in St. Louis. In her early 70s, she decided to learn Italian -- and did. For many years, she was a member of the Alliance Française De St. Louis.

She and Chuck were vigorous outdoors types. It seems like they were always off to this national park, that mountain, white water rapids, the Galápagos Islands, and long excursions to places like the north of Canada.

She had a wry wit. One year, she and Chuck had a 4th of July party. I suddenly noticed vintage aircraft flying by, followed by modern planes. Then, just as Margaret was serving drinks, I exclaimed, "God damn, Margaret, that's a B-52!" Without missing a beat, she deadpanned, "I just thought I'd arrange a little air show for my guests." The planes, it turns out, were headed for The Arch. We just happened to be in the air lane leading to the air show over the Mississippi River and downtown.

Her love of the Catholic Church, her anger at it, the depth of her knowledge about it, these were ever-present. She was a Third Order Franciscan. She also married a Lutheran, Chuck. As I mentioned, her love of the environment led her to a kind of mysticism that I can only envy.

Just before she died, we spent a couple of hours with Chuck and Margaret. Margaret, by this time, was unconscious. As we left, we went by Margaret's bed. I said, "Margaret, I don't know if you can hear me. It's Phoebe and John." Then I thought that I didn't want her to die without saying simply, "We love you, Margaret." Then I simply added, "We pray for you every day. You're our dear friend."

2023.11.06 / 09:52
John Samuel Tieman
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