January 1, 1996
With great sadness I report the death of Marge Halfpenny, the first Peace Corps/Turkey secretary, on January 1, 1996, in Washington, DC, from complications due to a stroke.
Marge arrived in Ankara in the fall of 1962, to join Ali Yonceova and me, and will long be remembered by volunteers from Turkey 1, 2, and 3 for her indomitable spirit, humor, and hospitality.
“Secretary” was the job label, but Marge represented so much more to those of us who worked closely with her. When all hell was breaking loose in typical PC fashion, Marge was the glue…unflappable, hardworking, and unafraid of adding to her job description to get the real job done.
She came to the Peace Corps from AID, for whom she had worked in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. After Turkey she returned to the US and our paths luckily crossed again at the Office of management and Budget, where she worked until the mid-80’s, before returning overseas for one last tour, in Geneva with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
As the saying goes, “they don’t make them like that anymore.” Marge was an angel of mercy when she appeared at Esenboğa airport, a rock while she was in Ankara, and one of the best friends you could ever have.
— Dave Weinman, the first Peace Corps Director in Turkey
DEDICATED TO THE MOST LOVELY TREE GROWN IN BROOKLYN . . .
“Margaret P. Halfpenny, Secretary” — the words leapt from that most doleful of pages, the “obits” in the Post’s January 5th edition. My heart and head had simultaneous and instant reactions. Was that the way to summarize my friend of 33 years? My memory entertained an instant flashback to the Fall of 1962 and a young Peace Corps Director in Turkey going to meet his second staff member at the Ankara airport. It took at least three minutes to understand that my prayers had been heard. The angel of mercy had arrived with her professional expertise, her openness to new cultures, and, not least of all, her sense of humor fully intact . . . That was my introduction to Marge Halfpenny, and I was in her debt from that day on . . . .
Secretary, yes, that was true, but she made that job seem so effortless, she soon became house mother, confidante, and friend to all those Peace Corps Volunteers who possessed enough savvy to find their way to the Ankara headquarters. There Marge dispensed hospitality, confidence-building conversation, and a lighter look at the world than many of those newly-adopted Turkish towns allowed in those stressful early days of the Peace Corps assignments. Marge was indefatigable, constantly assuming more responsibility as the officer-in-charge of that most innovative and sometimes seemingly distracted entity, our headquarters office. As I traveled the Anatolian plateau to visit Volunteers or quickly departed the office to race to a meeting with a Turkish official, I knew Marge, my rock, would keep things moving in the best direction possible . . . forward.
This “angel” had not fallen from the heavens of AID, if Afghanistan and Sierra Leone tours can be equated to heaven, to be bamboozled by Peace Corps procedures, or the lack thereof, or local officials, or that most challenging of life’s experience, the visiting inquisitive Peace Corps/Washington staff member. And so, as the story goes, we fell into a routine out of which grew a successful and thriving program for a number of years. When Marge finally left after her two years, they broke the mold, fragments of which, I am told, can still be seen in the wonderfully crafted Turkish pottery sold there!
Marge returned to the U. S., her overseas days ended for a while. Our paths crossed intermittently, until that wonderful day, when the angel reappeared in full garb and humor in Washington to work for the Office of Management and Budget’s Field Operations office. Marge again kept the pace, the only difference being that she was one of a team of support staff who represented and provided the best administrative service I ever saw in the government. It was another freewheeling effort, with OMB office staff flying across the country almost weekly to nurture an exciting experiment to improve federal/state/city relations. From there Marge moved on to a series of assignments in OMB, until her return to Geneva for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and her final international adventure.
Marge Halfpenny, Secretary, yes, but oh so much more. They don’t build that type of vessel any longer, with the speed of a nuclear sub in moving past bureaucrats who are obstacles and the feistiness and trustworthiness of Admiral Arleigh Burke’s 30-knot destroyers.
In the past few years I have spoken with Marge often and seen her on those occasions when she felt well enough to sally forth. Her humor and love of people never abandoned her, and she remained that wonderful tough-minded optimist who does not surrender easily. On the last visit Pat and I made to see her in the hospital, she sleepily drifted in and out. She must have known time was closing in, that the long voyage on life’s sea-spanning freighter was ending. Twice she stretched out her hand and said goodbye. Finally, as it was time to go I sensed it was time to bid her goodbye, and I mumbled all too quietly, Goodbye. I couldn’t say it very loudly. Experience tells me that my angel, somewhere, somehow, will rejoin me, and I’ll know she’s around, when that deep-throated New York laugh echoes, and my martini glass gently shakes. Love you, Marge, and thanks!