This is a difficult tribute to write. My good friend, Magda Cordell McHale passed away this evening.
Magda and I were an unlikely set. Separated by 50 years, we shared a great deal of time over the past 15 years. I enjoyed that time immeasurably. Though we were distant in chronological age, we connected. I know that inside throughout her life, Magda remained a vibrant, energetic, 25 year-old.
Magda was an avid smoker. One of her few indulgent habits, she smoked frequently, and everywhere. About 5 years ago, someone opened a door — into Magda — which caused a nasty break in her hip. On the floor, she waited for the ambulance. Obviously in great pain, she waited patiently until the medics secured he to the stretcher. Once outside and on her way to the ambulance, she exclaimed “STOP” (which, naturally, everyone did). In the silence that followed, she said, “Everyone must wait. I need to have a cigarette.” Naturally, everyone waited.
Magda was tough. Following emergency hip replacement, I visited Magda in the hospital the following morning at about 3am. She inquired as to how I had gotten in after hours, to which I replied, “I just walked in.” She loved that. We chatted about her new hip. I worried, and she argued that the new replacement hip would likely work much better than the 80-some-odd year-old one she had, and that it would be fine. I suspected she might be right, and less than 3 months later, she was back in the office as usual.Magda was a survivor. She gracefully overcame religious persecution, social prejudice, academic elitism, and age. Magda selflessly shared her unique perspectives and experience with generations of students, through her ability to weave disparate and seemingly wholly unrelated facts into monumental observations that forced one to reexamine the perspective through which the world is viewed. This is one trait of Magda’s that I have worked hard to emulate, and it shapes my career and research trajectories to this day.
Magda was unique. Everyone remembered Magda. Her accent, she confided, made her unique. People remembered it, and that made people remember her.
Magda very consistently offered frank and sage advice, about working, relationships, and food. Framed in 80-some years of experience, it was often difficult to debate the wisdom she offered. Through Magda, I learned a great deal about design, but more about life, and more about how to live. Importantly, I learned to focus on what matters, and let go of the things that don’t, and for that, I will always be in her debt.
Magda was a my close friend, and we spent a lot of time together. We would close our time together saying “goodbye, my friend.” Often, after walking away, I would wonder, what will I do when she’s gone? Who will I ask for advice? Who will chart out the things that are most obvious that I can’t seem to see? I always left our time together with a pang of sadness — wishing there was just a little more time to spend, and recognizing that our time was limited. I’ll miss Magda tremendously, and will remember her fondly as our time together now comes to an end.
Goodbye, My Friend.