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One remarkable woman

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Last Thursday was Peggy Marshall's 93rd birthday, and, of course, she hosted a party for her extended family and 500 of her closest friends.

It was a wonderful gathering on a chilly, windy afternoon, an opportunity to toast Peggy, her family and her life. Peggy had spent weeks planning the party, and it was, like Peggy herself, practically perfect. It would have been perfect, but Peggy wasn't there. It was her funeral, and we were there to say goodbye to her, the last of a generation of remarkable women who shaped and nourished this community for much of the last century.

Twice married and twice widowed, she raised six kids, cultivated her many gardens, and, for over half a century, passionately advocated for the arts, the developmentally disabled and our city.

She's best known for, 35 years ago, founding Cheyenne Village, which enables people with developmental disabilities to live independent, productive lives. Cheyenne Village thrives, serving 135 clients (including Peggy's daughter Ellen) with an annual budget of $5 million. It has been a model for similar programs in dozens of cities nationwide.

Peggy also created the Touch Gallery at the Fine Arts Center, which encourages visitors, sighted or not, to touch the art therein. And plans and pictures of a wheelchair-accessible garden that she created now repose in the Smithsonian.

Peggy was a force of nature. Bert Fellows spoke of being coaxed to come to a meeting to discuss the idea of Cheyenne Village. "By the end of the meeting, I was on the board, and I was the secretary!"

Murray Ross told of pitching Theatreworks to Peggy and her friends in the early '70s: "I gave this impassioned speech, and told them I wanted to bring "exquisite' Shakespeare to the city. Peggy smiled, and told me to forget "exquisite' too precious, too elitist."

Marshall was one of a handful of strong-willed, farsighted women who gave vision to a sometimes recalcitrant community. Betsy Partridge and Marka Stewart at the Fine Arts Center, Eje Sprague at the Planning Commission, Mikki Kraushaar at Silver Key, Zoya Miller at Newborn Hope, Bee Vradenburg at the symphony they taught us how to build and sustain a real city.

After the funeral at Colorado College's Shove Chapel, hundreds gathered at the Gates Common Room for Peggy's last party. Never one to leave things to chance, Peggy had given her minister specific instructions. The place, the time, the music, the hymns, the prayers, the speakers and, she added, tell everyone to wear bright colors!

Of her generation, only Don Haney, the Grand Old Man of Colorado Springs, was there. The rest are gone, swept away by time. But her protgs were there powerful, confident women ranging from 27 to 80, whom Peggy had befriended, mentored and encouraged.

There was a bulletin board of photos from Peggy's life:the child, the young woman, the ski instructor, the bride, the young mother, the nonprofit leader. Then there were photos of her in her 70s, 80s and 90s, but none of her as an old woman because she never really aged. She danced, walked, did yoga and remained thin, graceful and elegant,the last flower of a distant summer.

Murray Ross: "God, she was so beautiful! Those blue eyes, the smile, the way she moved ... what a woman! What a woman!"

Peggy had known for some months that her heart might fail at any time. She just kept on; a little thing like imminent death didn't concern her.

Not long before her passing, she talked to her friend, Sharon Dobson. "I've had two wonderful husbands whom I absolutely adored, and a wonderful family, and I've been able to be helpful, and do some good things. I've had a good life. But I'd like to stay a little longer. There's so much to do, and I'd like to see the tulips bloom ..."

She missed them, but now it's our turn to tend, cultivate, and nourish her many gardens and to plant some of our own. And, Peggy, when we see the tulips bloom, radiant with spring color, we'll think of you.

Goodbye.

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