Margaret A. "Peggy" MacKenzie, a longtime Park School educator and administrator, died Saturday of cancer at a daughter's Lutherville home. She was 81.
"Peggy was an old hand and an old-timer when I became headmaster in 1976," said F. Parvin Sharpless of Gwynedd, Pa., who was headmaster of Park School until retiring in 1995. "She was a very solid kindergarten teacher who loved the children and was always gentle and never patronizing. She talked to them like they were real people."
The daughter of a building superintendent and a homemaker, Margaret Anne Shelley was born in New York City and raised on Beekman Place in Manhattan.
After graduating from Holy Cross High School, she earned a bachelor's degree in 1953 from Hunter College.
She married Thomas MacKenzie, a salesman, and taught in New York City public schools until 1956, when she had her first child.
"It was her lifelong goal to become a teacher," said a daughter, Peggy J. MacKenzie Kennai of Timonium.
In 1966, the couple moved to Phoenix, Baltimore County, and Mrs. MacKenzie returned to teaching that year when she founded a preschool at Chestnut Grove Presbyterian Church in Jarrettsville.
Mrs. MacKenzie joined the Park School faculty in 1970, where she taught kindergarten and later headed the department until retiring in 1995.
"She was very conscientious and well-organized. You could trust her, and parents loved her because she knew her business," recalled Dr. Sharpless. "Children felt secure with her, and she was always very encouraging. Whenever you went into her classroom, they were busy doing what they were supposed to do. She was a great role model."
"On a recent outing, she was approached by a parent of one of her former students who told her not only of the inspirational effect she had on her child's life, but also her own life," said another daughter, Diane MacKenzie McCann of Lutherville. "She said she had always disliked school growing up, but when she saw how happy her child was every day in Mrs. MacKenzie's classroom, she decided to make a career change, and became a kindergarten teacher so she could give children that same wonderful experience," said Ms. McCann.
As a teacher, Mrs. MacKenzie was recalled as being "firm but loving," Ms. Kennai said. "She provided a classroom that was creative, structured, safe and fun. Her philosophy was to develop and nurture the children, but also — and perhaps most importantly — give them a positive and happy introduction to education."
Hannah Fruchtman Johnston, the daughter of Joanne Fruchtman, who owns the Children's Bookstore in Roland Park, was a student of Mrs. MacKenzie's 30 years ago.
"Hannah adored kindergarten because it was a really special nurturing place," said Ms. Fruchtman. "The most important thing to Peggy was the care and education of children, there was no doubt about that. She was a warm and loving person to all the children in her class."
Betsy Leighton, associate head of school at Park, worked with Mrs. MacKenzie several years before her retirement.
"Peggy was an extraordinarily kind person," said Ms. Leighton. "She partnered with Flo Crossley and together they were the heart and soul of the kindergarten. Her classroom was always a joyful place."
When Mrs. MacKenzie retired, the Brooklandville school erected a playhouse for students on its grounds to honor her.
"The little playhouse is called the 'MacKenzie House,' because she always created in her classroom a warm house for both children and parents," said Ms. Leighton.
When she retired, Mrs. MacKenzie summed up her career by saying, "I loved every minute of it."
The longtime Cockeysville resident, who moved to Lutherville about a year ago, was an accomplished needleworker who knitted and crocheted blankets and quilts for family members and friends.
She was also an avid reader and enjoyed caring for her seven grandchildren, family members said.
Mrs. MacKenzie was a communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 100 Church Lane, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Friday.
In addition to Ms. Kennai and Ms. McCann, Mrs. MacKenzie is survived by a son, Thomas MacKenzie of Annapolis; two other daughters, Laura Brooks of Lutherville and Barbara Graebener of Williamsburg, Va.; a brother, John Shelley of Williamsburg, Va.; a sister, Anne Dennigan of Milltown, N.J.; and seven grandchildren. Her marriage ended in divorce.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun