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A REFLECTION ON THE LIFE OF A MEMBER OF PRINCE GEORGE’S COMMUNITY COLLEGE’S FAMILY:  MARGARET TIERNEY


by Barbara A. Gage
(Professor, Physical Sciences)

 

 

Shortly after Thanksgiving, we lost a colleague of long-standing, Margaret Tierney. Peggy, as she was known to most, was a member of the Physical Science Department for 36 years before her retirement in June for health reasons. Although some may have known her only because of her diminutive stature, she made her presence known in her division and college through her teaching, service on various committees, and continuous dedication to the Faculty Senate. For those who did not know her well, please grant me a few words to give you a picture of the person I knew.

The last several years were difficult ones for Peggy; she suffered from several conditions that sapped her energy and made it hard to maintain a career as a professor who taught laboratory sections. She continued to grade student work despite deteriorating eyesight. She felt teaching was the most significant thing she could do in life, and her actions bore this out. Peggy came to be known as a “hard” instructor, but she felt that maintaining high standards was important and never had unrealistic expectations – just expectations that students strive to achieve their best.

Peggy always had to contend with limitations and others perceptions about her height. Despite having petite hands, Peggy played the piano and organ, and actually qualified for a position at the Peabody Institute upon graduation from Regina High School. However, she received a scholarship to Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, which she attended despite concerns by the faculty that she would not be successful in chemistry or fit in with the socialite atmosphere on campus. She was on the synchronized swimming team, did inner-city math tutoring, and graduated summa cum laude. She continued her chemistry career in this male-dominated field at Michigan State University, completing a master’s degree in analytical chemistry.

She returned to Maryland and joined the relatively new Prince George’s Community College as a chemistry faculty member in 1968. She primarily taught the general chemistry sequence during her tenure at the college. She was a wealth of traditional chemical knowledge, and she imparted that information to students in a well-organized format that was particularly helpful for our less structured students. Soon after joining the faculty, she started pursuing a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at the University of Maryland. After extensive work, her doctoral advisor returned to Europe, requiring her to redesign her dissertation under a new advisor. As many of us, she successfully completed the degree while teaching full time.

Peggy served through most of her career as a departmental representative or member-at-large to the Faculty Senate and was chair or co-chair of the Academic Regulations and Standards Committee for many years. Most recently, she oversaw the creation of the Academic Dishonesty Policy. Over time, she co-authored laboratory manuals, worked in grant-related workshops for teachers, and was engaged in chemistry curriculum changes. In addition, she served as faculty advisor from the program’s inception, signing up for the late times or weekends so that persons with families were not inconvenienced.

She continued to play the organ for the early mass at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Hyattsville until a few months before her death and was an active and highly decorated member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. She was generous in her contributions to charitable organizations. She served as a member and president of the Kettering Homeowners’ Association for many years, judged more science fairs than I can count, and tutored children in chemistry. Despite her sometimes stern demeanor, she reveled in the behavior of her very spoiled sheltie, Laddie, was an avid New York Yankees and Washington Redskins fan (and a great appreciator of all sports), and amassed a large doll collection with a special love for Shirley Temple replicas. The most special person in her life was her brother, Bill, who, despite being the baby brother by many years, handled all issues that arose for her with grace and understanding.

She was a mentor and support for me in my very early years at the college, and for that I am very grateful. I realized, in thinking over our long friendship, that the computer, curricular, and household assistance I provided to her over the last several years were a way to repay the time she devoted to me. She was a fiercely independent (and yes, stubborn) individual with a high level of integrity who made many, but not obvious contributions to our college community. She lived a difficult but full life, and I am grateful to have been part of it.

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 20, No. 2 

Spring 2005