Eulogies For Margaret Smith (Maggie Ferguson)

Three eulogies were given at the funeral on Saturday for Maggie by her sister Marie Dennis, her son Todd Smith, and her daughter Sarah Welch.

About 800 people attended the funeral mass at St. Xavier Catholic Church, 46 W 16th Street, New York, NY 10011.

Eulogy By Her Sister, Marie Dennis

Always Nan to me, Aunt Nan to my children and their children – Margaret, Maggie, Mom, Dia to you – Dennis, Smith, Ferguson …each name carries a part of her journey, reflects years and relationships treasured, sometimes hard, always, always filled with abundant energy and deep love.

As you can imagine, I spent quite a lot of my life galloping to catch up with her – often, it was like following a gazelle. Nan (Maggie) was a remarkable role model, but the challenge she kept tossing my way was not about sailing a boat or studying chemistry or singing in the Trinity Belles chorus or driving a school bus when no one else would do it or even running marathons, but about living with impeccable integrity and a deep commitment to nurturing life.

That is so evident in each of you, Todd and Sarah and Ann and in your families. I see her strong, loving hand in each of your lives. She was so proud of you and so happy to be your mom – every step on the way. She has given you deep roots and rich soil in which to grow – and you are doing that very well!

The many weeks we spent together when you three and my crew – all the cousins – were little were such a gift. Every night after we got all of you into bed, she and I would sit down and talk about life and what we believed in and how we could change the world. We talked with hope about what it meant to live in times of such drastic change – for the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council, for women in the second half of the 20th century….and on and on. We talked about the things we loved – baking bread, growing vegetables, canning, cooking from scratch.

In those conversations and in countless others over the years we listened to each other and learned from each other. We challenged and encouraged and consoled each other. During a particularly hard time in my own life, Nan called me every day just to check in – for months and months and months – to see how I was doing – how all of us were doing. I always felt that she respected and supported me, even when she thought I’d lost my mind. (Sarah and Todd and Ann – you know that feeling!) And I had enormous respect for her.

Nan (Maggie) was a strong and loving daughter. Our parents were so proud of their doctor-daughter. Those of you who knew Great Grand could see that, I’m sure. For many years – especially her last six years, Great Grand was physically living nearer to or with me and my family, but Nan shared completely the joys – and the challenges – of accompanying her life, and ultimately, her decline. There were so many times when Nan dropped everything and miraculously (instantly) transported herself from New York to Washington to help figure out a troubling Grand-care puzzle or just to deliver a dozen yellow roses or to sweep Grand back to New York for a while – or forever.

In these last 20 years – made so happy by you, dear Matt, and by the loving embrace of your wonderful Ferguson family, I saw her so intensely, exuberantly alive. She loved you so. The pain you are feeling now – the terrible loss of Michael and Theresa would have broken her heart.

Medicine was one of Nan’s (Maggie’s) great loves. She was a healer, who brought all her skill and compassion and tenderness to full attention for every patient and student. Nan followed into medicine our grandfather, Dr. Armand Salmon, who was a horse and buggy doctor in Brooklyn and a wonderful figure in our lives. She entered medical school at Georgetown when women in medicine in the U.S. were still a rarity. And she used her training in every way she could in service to more than any of us will ever know. Many of you knew that side of my sister better than I did, but it seems to me that the values she brought into the practice of medicine would be well worth emulating as we rethink our health care system. We talked about that – about politics – too.

Amazingly, even as she reserved a special place for Todd and Sarah and Ann and for their families, Aunt Nan knew the special gifts and idiosyncrasies of each of my six children, their spouses and their children. She remembered birthdays too. I know she did the same for the whole Ferguson clan. Her gifts to me were often outrageous. She could so lovingly break into my “living simply” box – not out of disrespect, but in a way that revealed her own commitment to beauty and an invitation to revel a bit in it with her. I was always grateful for that invitation and loved her persistent extravagance!

There is so much more I could say. We were so different and so much the same and such good friends. I think the only real arguments we ever had were incredibly stupid. Like, “It’s MY turn to pay the bill. No, it’s MY turn to pay the bill…”

I know that we – all of us who love her “infinity” – cannot imagine that she will not “be home” any minute. But I believe she is home and still with us, feeling our love as we feel hers.

With a big smile, she is telling us again, “Have a far out tuned in super-fantastic day!” It won’t be easy.

Eulogy By Her Son, Todd Smith

Two months ago I was sitting where you are and my mom was lecturing from here. I remember turning to Matt and saying, “That’s my mom.” She made me feel so proud.

The large group of us gathered here today is only a tiny testament to the uncountable lives that she has touched. Mom’s only thought in every moment of her life was simply, “What more can I give?”

Her actions always spoke clearly, “How can I be there for you, whether you are my son, my daughter, my husband, my sister, my mother, my nephew, my niece, my grandchild, my student, my patient, my friend, my colleague, or just the person that happens to be in front of me at this moment?”

For Mom, there was only one person: the one that she was with at the time. We were all equal in that sense, because she gave her total love to each of us no matter who we were. She acted as if she actually saw God in each and every one of us.

Mom didn’t live in a future, though she made plans. She didn’t dwell much on the past. Mom was here, now in every moment of her life with us, humbly and respectfully looking for a way to serve.

Her joy was to lift us up one by one as our paths crossed with hers. Her warmth and her smile could melt any heart now matter how long it had been shut down. Her amazing ability to listen and to understand us was her greatest gift. And she used her gift to spread love to everyone she met.

I believe in God. And my preference is God’s will. When I resist the will of God, I experience it as pain inside of me. And the way I know for sure what is the will of God is by looking at what actually occurs, not by comparing it to what I imagine should be instead.

So for my own sake, I accept reality as it is, because it hurts me to do otherwise. I embrace the truth of what has happened, and with joy and tears and lots of love I celebrate her life.

Though she is not here physically, Mom is not dead in many ways. Just as the Olympic torch passes from one runner to another, so the love she had for all of us is burning strongly in our hearts. It is our turn now to use the gift that she has given us to make the world a brighter place.

The next time we stand face to face with someone, are we truly listening? Can we really hear what the person who stands before us is saying and feeling? Can we put ourselves in their shoes?

Without bothering about any inconvenience to ourselves, can we find a way to help? Sometimes a kind word is all that’s needed. Or a just hug. Sometimes it may take a lot of doing.

Can we love even those who hurt us? Can we see them like a child pounding their fists against our thighs, and can we double our love for them instead of striking back? Can we see what they must be going through?

Do we have enough understanding to give someone their space when they need it, yet the compassion to show up again when it’s appropriate.

As we rush to get our own work done, can we spare a kind word and a moment for our colleague when she or he interrupts us? Do we have time for a quick hello when we meet someone on the street? Do we have some little tip that might make all the difference for someone trying to learn a new skill?

Can we go the extra mile, even if we don’t get paid to do it? Are we willing to get up a little earlier than everyone, no matter how late we went to bed, to have the coffee ready when the rest come down?

Can we receive with gratitude and love the gifts that others so generously give to us? Can we accept the gifts of others as an expression of their love, and honor that love with our appreciation?

And are we willing to make the effort, and spend the money, to bring the ones we love together? If not us, then who will do it?

We had my mom in our lives as an example of how it’s done. We’ve been the happy recipients of her love for years. Now we are being given the opportunity to practice what she lived, to follow her example.

This may indeed be God’s plan in all of this. If she were still here we might not get a chance to be for others what she was to us. We’d be too busy basking in her sunshine.

Thank you Mom for your beautiful, beautiful life. I love you and I always will.

Eulogy By Her Daughter, Sarah Welch

Mom,

I know that all of this isn’t for you.

Besides of course being here today to wrap us all in love, you are in heaven, which for you means right about now you’re sound asleep in the midday sun on a white sand beach with absolutely no need for sunscreen, having just enjoyed a five-star meal made with about six sticks of butter and yes, you’re still managing to look fabulous in that swimsuit.

Enjoy your rest, mom. You earned it.

All of this is for those of us left here who are stumbling, fumbling, bumbling forward in the absence of your bright light.

Words are insufficient to convey even a fraction of your importance, your beauty, your grace, your spirit.

When I closed my eyes earlier this week to try to summon a eulogy worthy of you and your life, a kaleidoscope of images flashed before me. You leading the charge in building a sand car at the beach in Ocean City when we were kids,

you in your white coat briskly walking the hospital halls – your heels making that unique click-click-click mom sound,

you compassionately listening to someone,

you with a chainsaw in hand clearing brush up at Kilty,

you in the kitchen going a million miles an hour right before a big party at 121,

you as the only woman in your class at Hopkins – chilling in the back row with your beehive and a look on your face that said watch out you idiots who told me as a woman I was a waste of a medical school slot,

you trying to convince us as teens that we really needed to throw a bonfire party.

You giving the hook sign to the camera at the Miami aquarium.

Your huge hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii & arms-wide-open welcome every time you saw anyone you loved.

You waking us up singing “hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to school we go” on the first day of school each year…

And I know that every, single person in this room has a Maggie/Nan/Dr. Smith/mom/Dea kaleidoscope of their own.

And therein lies your magic.

In every interaction you gave 1,000%. You were never anywhere else but right where you were, with whomever you were with, giving all of yourself, your intelligence, your compassion, your love, your kindness, your generosity, your humor, whatever the moment called for.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to spend an hour with you not too long ago to interview you for my upcoming book. You shared your secret for getting it all done: You said
One thing I tell interns and students – you really have to look at the segment you’re addressing – but when you’re addressing that you give it your full attention. When you’ve succeeded in that, you can move on to the next thing. You’re succeeding if you’re doing that little thing well.

And somehow, that very thing, your ability to be truly present, is what made it possible for you to accomplish so massively.

Another thing was that you never hesitated. Nothing was impossible, right? You always dove right in and simply did. And if someone ever tried to tell you otherwise…well, they’d be lucky to get halfway through their explanation before you’d have done it, whipped up a four-course dinner for friends, dropped in on a few patients, and had a heart-to-heart phone conversation with one of your children.

It was amazing to watch you become more of who you were over time. I mean, you were always a force to behold, but when you met and married Matt, you truly blossomed.

Thank you my dearest, dearest Matt for loving her so unselfishly – your love, your unconditional support gave her wings and made her larger than life. And Matt, Chris, Terry, Mary Kate, Peter, Andy, Cass, Tim, Kathleen (and Michael & Theresa) thank you beyond words for welcoming her and Todd, Ann and me into your family with such open arms. She loved each and every one of you and your children so very much. It was fitting in the end that she had a huge family to dote on and celebrate with.

Mom, you were magnificent; a super-sized soul in a size-small body that lit up absolutely everything you touched. You are my hero, the most amazing role model a girl could have, my best friend… Out of all the moms in the world my God I was so lucky to have had you.

I love you infinity.

Eulogy Appearing in the Federal Air Surgeon’s Medical Bulletin Vol. 48, No. 3

In Memoriam

Dr. Margaret Dennis Smith, a dedicated pilot and Aviation Medical Examiner since 1994, tragically passed away in a fatal aircraft accident involving her single engine Cirrus SR22 on Monday July 5, 2010. She was piloting her plane on a trip from Plattsburgh, N.Y., to her home base in New Jersey, along with two other family members, who also died in the accident.

She was an accomplished rheumatologist, educator, avid flyer and talented AME. Few will impart to others as much as Dr. Margaret Smith. Her devotion to her family, colleagues, patients, and airmen was immense.

Dr. Smith was both a Senior AME and Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) program sponsor for the Federal Aviation Administration. Her love of aviation was deep and committed. Dr. Smith found the time to make flying a significant part of her life. In many ways, she represented the true spirit of American medicine. Her extraordinary kindness and professionalism have been a great benefit to the health and well-being of our pilot community.

Dr. Smith was Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Clinical Medicine at New York Medical College, as well as the Program Director for Internal Medicine at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, N.Y. She was a distinguished physician, professor, and program director for residents at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Her hard work and intelligence represented the interests of physicians throughout New York. “Maggie” was an effective advocate and a good listener, able to reach consensus and build unity. As a program director at St. Vincent’s during its recent closing, she took personal charge of getting every one of her residents placed in other training programs. Maggie personally lobbied her fellow program directors at other hospitals to train her residents. She was not done until everyone found a new home.

Our deepest sympathies go out to Maggie’s husband, Matthew Ferguson, MD, and the rest of the family. The FAA mourns the tragic loss of Dr. Margaret Smith. Her expertise and service will be greatly missed by all of us.

—Harriet Lester, MD, Eastern RFS
—Ray Basri, MD, Senior AME, Colleague
—Mindy Zalcman

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