Margot Adler, NF ’82, a longtime correspondent for NPR, died of cancer at her home in New York on July 28. She was 68. Adler joined NPR in 1979 as a general assignment reporter. She covered a wide variety of political and cultural news. Adler is the author of three books, including “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today,” in 1979 and “Vampires Are Us: Understanding Our Love Affair with the Immortal Dark Side,” published this year.
When our Nieman Class gathered at Lippmann House in the fall of 1981, we were a mixed bag in all kinds of ways: Print and broadcast, age and gender, race and politics.
But we all recognized quickly that Margot Adler was distinct in ways beyond her political roots in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and her journalistic roots at Paciﬁca.
For one thing, Margot was a witch. She was devoted to what she termed “goddess worship,” which was a paganism that drew heavily on deeply felt feminism. But even more arresting was Margot’s free-form passion for life, and her determination to sweep all of us into that sometimes joyous, sometimes furious embrace of acting, savoring, experiencing … and sharing.
Early in the year, Margot led a Nieman expedition to what was, for her, sacred ground: Martha’s Vineyard. She took us to the Gay Head cliffs, which are made of a reddish-gray clay and were, at that time, open to all.
We spent a glorious, sunny afternoon wallowing naked in the liquid mud, then walking down the cliffs to wash in the sea. There are pictures of this nude, mud-covered group of would-be pagans, with Margot smiling in satisfaction at what she had wrought.
She assumed the role of spiritual leader. She believed in the reality of holy things and somehow made us believers too. At the end of the year she had us form a ritual circle beneath the fragrant lilacs at Lippmann House and chant words that would keep us together in the coming years.
The charm worked. I don’t think any Nieman class had a greater attendance in percentage terms than ours at the 75th anniversary. We have remained very tight, and without question Margot was at the center of that closeness.
Her distinguished career at NPR was recognized and respected and rewarded, and professional achievement was a source of pride. She took particular pleasure in sparking the NPR career of Sylvia Poggioli, who was not a journalist and was there that year as the spouse of Piero Benetazzo of La Republica. Margot recognized Sylvia as a natural, and so she was.
Sylvia also became one of Margot’s closest friends, which was the larger point. With all her journalistic and other laurels, Margot mainly was about the people she loved and the many who loved her.