Margaret Dawson Stein
Margaret Dawson Stein died in her sleep on Sunday, September 18, 2016 in Fremont, California. She was a youthful 95. We remember and cherish her unique mix of modern and old-fashioned values. Margaret was born at Cool Springs, a family farm in Esmont, Virginia in Albemarle County. She traced her lineage to English and Welsh settlers from the 18th century, and counted amongst her relatives veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. To the end, Cool Springs occupied a central space in her heart and mind.
There was little money on the farm but always enough to eat and this was shared with a large extended family and wide circle of friends during the depression. She learned the value of generosity and the need to take care of those less fortunate. Margaret learned to read and to love reading from her Aunt Jo. George Anderson—son of a slave and a hired hand on the farm who became very dear to her—taught her to drive. She learned arithmetic doing sums in the farm’s small store and she was awed by her mother whose workload on the farm was unrivaled. At James Madison College in Virginia, Margaret studied mathematics and science.
Although women’s career choices were severely limited, her classmates celebrated her love of learning and her scholarly potential. In 1941 an unrewarding career as a secondary school teacher was interrupted by an offer of full-time employment with the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to NASA. She jumped at the chance and in later years when computers became ubiquitous, Margaret loved to joke about her and her female colleagues’ job classification as “computers.”
After the war she attended the University of California, Berkeley for graduate work in statistics. There she met her future husband, Charles Stein, a professor of statistics at Stanford University. They raised three children together, Sara, Anne and Charles Jr. As a mother she encouraged self-discipline, modesty and self-reliance in her children. In marriage, she and Charles shared a love of opera and literature. They read together over decades. Margaret encouraged Charles’ work, typed his papers, and was an integral part of his academic life.
Margaret had a life-long commitment to peace and social justice. She was talented in all aspects—as researcher, writer, organizer, advocate and mentor. During the Vietnam War, she was President of the Palo Alto Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and a member of the national board. She worked with the Stanford University faculty and students who opposed the war, and with young men facing the draft. Later, she helped to pass legislation prohibiting the construction of new nuclear power plants in California, and she helped to improve services for the poor in San Mateo County. She was an early proponent of solar power and an early opponent of war toys. She was involved in countless voter registration drives. On one occasion, she and Charles spent over two hours hunting down an enthusiastic registrant who had failed to complete his form. Margaret sang with the Raging Grannies into her nineties at post offices, street fairs and demonstrations. She was a good songwriter too.
Like her mother, Margaret always had a little business on the side. She translated mathematics papers and books from Russian to English. At the age of 65, she began a 25-year career as bookkeeper for the Gallery House, an artists’ cooperative in Palo Alto. Characteristically, she mentored friends and family in accounting and was encouraged to pursue a late career as a CPA.
Margaret travelled widely, living for extended periods of time in Oxford, Leningrad, Zurich, Canberra and Singapore. She was an enthusiastic and gracious entertainer hosting dinner parties at the family home in Stanford. Margaret lived life with great joy, energy, and commitment. She is survived by her husband of 62 years, their three children, and their grandson Max. She was our much-loved family anchor and her absence is deeply felt. She is missed by all who knew her.