Marguerite Scurry, or Richie, began working at the Claremont Institute in its earliest days. She was already then an older woman. She lived alone in a trailer near our office, and she had a little typesetting business operating there. She worked for us for many years, and eventually we became her closest connection to the outside world.
As she aged, and her powers began to fail, she moved into a retirement home in LaVerne, California. There several members of the staff, especially Daniel Palm, Phyllis Martin, and Nancy Padilla, took care of her for several years. She was a woman of remarkable ability. Several of us remember her below.
Larry P. Arnn
President, The Claremont Institute
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One can see some lessons in the life of Marguerite Scurry. They are the sort to give one hope.
First of all, one should admit the difficult things about her life. Richie lived alone for almost her entire existence. Through long years and to a ripe old age she made her bed in a dwelling without others. Like people who marry too late and then find they annoy each other, she formed just her own habits. Things went in a certain place, where she would use them, and not where they would be put if others might need the space too. Like Chris Flannery, who also worked with her closely, she loved late nights and coffee shops.
Interruptions were few in her life, and partly for that reason mostly welcome as a relief to the inevitable loneliness. She had I think a naturally meticulous character. This helped to make her personal habits idiosyncratic, even cranky, and she was known at her retirement home as a woman with a temper. This surely is one of the costs of living one's life without close and loving companionship.
Richie was a small lady, undistinguished in appearance. In general she did not work to adorn herself. For this reason she did not make a strong impression upon people when first she met them. This probably helped to seal her off. Of course there is a little bit of tragedy in that. I am confessedly describing so far a partly unhappy and unfortunate life. This surely is part of the truth. It is right to face this fact about Richie, because the real and larger story becomes more hopeful and more happy in light of it.
Doug Jeffrey has written very well about the deeper character and quality of Richie. When we first met her, she ran a small typesetting business. We went to her because she could supply something very useful, even necessary to our purposes, and that at a moderate cost. So the relationship began upon the level of utility, and it continued on that level right to the end. But not only on that level.
Richie was just about the best proofreader that I ever met. Apart from her, the best I have met is Sir Martin Gilbert, the Churchill biographer. This is a serious sort of praise to give her, because it was for three years my duty to try to be as good at this task as Sir Martin, and I failed. I lacked the intense concentration upon the most minute details. I could not quite make myself pull away from the sense of the words and focus upon their accuracy. I had not the ability--or, more likely, I had not the will--to reach the highest standard. It was not of course that the task was beneath me. The great scholar, Sir Martin, could do it, and did it with real determination and satisfaction. And Richie could do it too.
But of course this says something about her character. After a while, one noticed some things about her, especially in her eyes. She was determined, full of goodwill, and insightful. There was ever a giggle lurking in there. She loved to laugh, and she would look at one with real gratitude after she was made to laugh. And of course she could return the favor readily. Above all she always knew what one was saying, quickly, and often she would accept it with a cynical air. Those who have heard her say the word "OK" with just a certain lilt know very well what I mean.
Richie achieved very much in her life. In her way, she achieved as much as anyone has ever achieved. In her field of work, she consistently achieved superior performance. Upon every occasion that I worked with her, her work was excellent. Over many long years, and through dramatic changes in technology, she ran a successful business and provided for herself. She stored up savings that sustained her right to the end of her life, and she was never financially dependent upon anyone.
For a little old lady, this is a remarkable record. We today are very quick to think that people with the least disability cannot care for themselves, and we often do them little good by removing that opportunity from them. In Richie, there is a lesson about the dignity of life that can be achieved by a persistent character.
I will confess freely that my own fondness for Richie began with a perception of her serviceability. She could perform. She could get the job done. She could be relied upon every time. And so of course one went back to her.
But of course the story does not and could not end there. Her serviceability did not proceed from some accident. Like the rest of us, Richie was not a machine. Something made her perform as she performed. And soon enough one noticed what it was. It was the thing in each of us that makes us able to do what we do, when we do it well. It was love.
Richie felt the charm of high and good things. She had faith in God, and this faith filtered right down to a faith in things and people, a faith in work, a faith in ends. Once in a while she would take issue with something we had written ("Do you really think that this is so"--an expression I have heard from my mother-in-law, who like Richie has the art of disagreeing kindly). It was always because something she loved seemed in opposition. More often she would comment that something we had done was "pretty good." Understated, but the look in her eye would tell you she admired truly and with understanding.
For these reasons those of us who worked in the first days of the Claremont Institute were drawn to Richie. It was not kindness for an old lady. Some of the people in this room are much more readily capable of that than we. We came not to pity but to admire Richie, to look upon her as a peer, or a better. We argued grammar with her and lost. She found our mistakes and fixed them. She made us better, and then a little like a grandmother she took pride at the improvement in us.
In a poor way, we tried therefore to do our duty by Richie. I did not do my own so well as the rest of you here. But I am here for the same reason that each of you is here. We loved and admired Richie. She helped to make us better. And whatever we achieve in our lives is owing partly to her. And so we will not quite ever get the debt paid.
But like Richie, we should be persistent in the effort.
Larry P. Arnn
President, The Claremont Institute
* * *
A little bit of the Claremont Institute died when Richie Scurry passed away.
To look at her and talk to her one would believe she was 75 and had been 75 since time immemorial. It doesn't quite seem possible that she is gone.
My first day at the Institute I met Richie hunched over a computer transcribing Larry's dictation. There was a brief hello and she was back to her work. That was Richie's way.
She was efficient and of good cheer. Well I suppose it was good cheer. Richie smiled and didn't often speak. It was as if she had just heard a joke but wasn't going to tell you what it was.
There was also a time when she was of less than good cheer.
Back in 1991 the men of the Institute, always fond of cigars, took to smoking them in the office. Why, I don't exactly know. The Institute had survived for many years without cigar smoking, or at least not much of it. But that year Doug, Dan, and I started smoking about four of five cigars a day.
Larry, sensing unease among the female staff, took to only chewing on his cigars when in the office. Priscilla Gordon, a smoker and the senior woman on staff, decided that the level of smoke in the office was getting out of hand.
First she bought air purifiers. Although this did some good it was still not enough to stem the growing discontent among the other women in the office. Finally she did the only thing that could have curtailed our smoking. Priscilla played the "Richie" card.
Richie, who had been only mildly annoyed by the cigar smoking, took to coughing and walking around the office with air freshener. It was then reported to the men in the office that Richie had asthma. When we asked Richie about this she didn't say she did, but did ask if that would be sufficient for us to stop smoking. She appeared as if she was willing to contract asthma if we would cease and desist. Immediately the cigar craze ended.
Others no doubt will praise all of Richie's talents in the office. This praise is well deserved. Richie was a dedicated and loyal employee. She was truly part of the Claremont family.
Brian T. Kennedy
Vice-President, The Claremont Institute
* * *
I first got to know Richie well when we pulled an all-nighter in 1986 in order to put together the first desk-top-published issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Previously Richie had typeset the Review. This new method, I assured her, would be faster and easier. But we were computer novices, and instead of wrapping it up in eight hours as expected, it took us 26.
I spent a good deal of the latter part of this marathon throwing tantrums, to which Richie would respond by cackling. (I think that's a fair description of her laugh, even though it was not unpleasant.) I discerned two reasons for this cackling:
One, although Richie already looked ancient, she had more energy and good- nature than I, and she found my fatigue and ill-humor amusing. Two, she had told me in advance that it would be faster and easier if I let her typeset the Review in the time-honored fashion, and she was taking joy in the conviction that my misery was well-deserved.
I learned that night that Richie was a loyal and diligent worker, and also that she was a pill. Over the next eight years we became buddies. Most of our business revolved around her uncanny proofreading abilities: she was the only person at the Claremont Institute whose proofreading I never double-checked.
But her keen eye discerned more than grammatical errors and misspelled words. It was often that she would appear in my office shaking a document at me and insisting, "You can't print this." Invariably the problem turned out to be that she had found a passage that was at odds with her understanding of Scripture.
Occasionally she was right: sometimes we would be publishing an article by a liberal social scientist whose views were indeed anti-Biblical, not to mention unpatriotic. In these cases I could assure Richie that we were disseminating their views only to contrast them (and demolish them) with our own. Other cases were more difficult.
The fact was, Richie was not always at ease theologically with the law of nature or law of reason that the Claremont Institute champions, and now and then would question one of our expressions of that law. I would spend a few minutes on these occasions to explain to her why we were not being impious, and she always went away appeased, although usually with a shake of her head, as if we were over-educated children. Our writings that Richie most appreciated, I might mention, were our commentaries on foreign policy, particularly on events in the former Soviet Union and Middle East, which she often interpreted as signals of the end time.
In these years I came to know Richie as a good woman, our trusting friend, and a lover of God.
Senior Fellow, The Claremont Institute
* * *
Richie Scurry was a marvelous servant of good causes, a patient overseer of flawed people. She was an angel, and I trust and pray she now rejoices with them.
Senior Fellow, The Claremont Institute
* * *
I did not know Richie. After Larry and Penny met with me to discuss this memorial service, I recalled a discovery made during one visit to a church outside of Oxford, England. Given how Larry and Penny described Richie, and what has been said this evening, it seems appropriate to this occasion.
I remember seeing a memorial plaque in a small parish church in England which bore a rather unusual inscription. It was in memory of a woman of the parish, and the inscription read, quite simply, "She did what she could." One gets no hint from the words whether the woman was a generous benefactor of the parish or a woman who scrubbed the floors and dusted the pews. Whoever she was, whatever she did, as the memorial plaque testifies, "She did what she could."
From what has been shared, Richie was a woman who clearly did what she could. And she did it well and with her particular style of grace. And what Richie did and the way in which she did it clearly touched others.
As Christians we believe that death is not final, that there is a larger life in a place where we can delight in the presence of God forever.
Some have described that place as a city with gates of pearl and streets of gold; for some that sounds a bit gaudy and overdone. Some have described it as the pure, eternal contemplation of God; for some that sounds a bit too formal for mere mortals. Our forebears on the frontier sang of themselves as poor wayfaring strangers who were waiting to cross Jordan to see again their beloved dead. My grandfather described it as a great family reunion with fried chicken and luscious watermelon.
I don’t know how Richie would have described heaven. It doesn’t matter how we describe it: what matters is that Richie is there and someday we, too, will join her.
Richie will be remembered because she was and always will be Richie. She will also be remembered because she did what she could, which is what God calls all of us to do--nothing less, nothing more--simply what we can.
No other epitaph is necessary or required. To those who loved her and cared, nothing more needs to be said or done, except to bless God for gracing our lives with her companionship.
God be blessed and praised for her and God take care of her for us.
Rector, St. Mark's Episcopal Church