Martha Jane Porter Kilgour

8 January 1933 to 13 April 2010

Sail on, Aunt Martha!

On the evening of the 13th, I was discussing the status of women in geology with my friends Lowell Lindsay and Heather McLeod. I naturally had to point out the inequity of my favorite aunt, Martha Porter Kilgour, being forced out of the field when she was a student at Principia College in the early 1950's. As it turns out, it was about the time of Martha's untimely passing 2000 miles away on Marston Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin. Hmmm...

snippet from an E-mail to Heather... On the afternoon of the 14th my sister (Leigh) called from Milwaukee to tell me that my Aunt Martha (mom's sister) died the previous night of an apparent heart attack. She was the piano tuner that I may have told you about, and I remember Mom telling me that she had an IQ of 180 - she was one of the smartest people I ever knew. She started out majoring in geology, but was forced out by the chauvinistic attitude of the times (the times they are a changin', as Bob said). She gave me all of her old geology books a few years ago, and gave me rock and mineral samples back when I was in grade school, which I still have to this day. I just remembered a random thought about her: when she was at the University of Wisconsin, she lived at the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house, and I got to spend the night there when I was about seven! She was a Christian Scientist like my grandmother and Aunt Mary Leigh (mom's other sister), so no doctors to detect heart conditions, etc. She was only 77, much too young!!!

Aunt Martha's passing was a shock, for all sorts of reasons. Too young (less than 13 years older than me - gulp!), last sibling of my mother, family historian...

another snippet from an E-mail: I've reflected considerably about losing the last of my mom's siblings... Will continue to search for meaning there... It makes it more compelling to me to get to Buffalo ASAP to see Aunt Mary Venneman, final dad sib.

I'm now twice the chronological age my father attained, for whatever that's worth. I'm not sure what comes next, but I have to feel as if I'm making some difference slightly touching the life of a student here and there. I do get those moments occasionally...

a mega-snippet from an E-mail: When we were living at my grandparents house while Mom was going to the University of Wisconsin (1956 - 58), she was teaching at an English-speaking school in Tokyo, so she sent lots of wonderful letters with fantastic tales of faraway places. I still have several presents that she gave me in those years: a Japanese abacus and a book explaining how to use it; a Samurai sword holder; and a Japanese Noh drama mask. She gave me my first camera for Christmas 1964, her old Kodak Bantam that now sits on my fireplace mantle. When I was a freshman and sophomore at the U. of Wis., she included me in her circle of friends where they would have folk-music singing get-togethers, and I used to go to meetings at the "Org" - a Christian Science meeting center on campus. I've always admired the practitioners of that faith (even though I couldn't fully embrace it). It is the only religion I know of that was founded by a woman (Mary Baker Eddy), and I like the fact the first thing you see when you enter the church is "God Is Love" in big bold letters behind the altar (or whatever they call it). What could be better than that?

continuing... Because she was only 12 years old when I was born, we were especially close, closer than I was to any of my other aunts or uncles. She and Uncle Bill (her husband) came to visit me on Vancouver Island, driving their camper-equipped Dodge van in 1970. We went over to the west coast of the island to Pacific Rim National Park for a few days, a real adventure, since it was a very rough unpaved road! We camped on the beach at Long Beach, a truly amazing mystical place!

more... Martha was the family historian, and gave talks all over Madison about the building of the state capitol building, which she put together from my great-grandmother's (Carolyn Howe Porter) journals of overseeing all of the interior appointments while her husband (Lew Porter) was overseeing the construction of the building. Bill and Martha recently made a trip to Bethel, Vermont to see the quarry where the granite came from for the exterior of the building. At one of our recent family reunions, we (cousins, uncles, aunts) were taken on a bus tour of the city of Madison to see and visit some of the buildings that my great-grandfather designed.

I was a real mess on Thursday the 15th, and I found that I couldn't compose myself enough to do justice to the subject at hand (glaciers, one of my favorites!), so I sent the bewildered students off with a homework assignment. I felt properly guilty that I couldn't perform, for the first time in my teaching career...

I'm better now, but will continue to celebrate the life of this wonderful woman, my aunt, Martha Jane Porter Kilgour.

Addendum, 26 April:
The obituary appeared in yesterday's Madison newspaper, written by Uncle Bill.
I saved the printable version from the web site. Here it is. (new window)