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Margot Adler, A Venerable And Beloved NPR Voice, Passes At 68


Longtime NPR correspondent and author Margot Adler has died at the age of 68. Margot had received treatment for endometrial cancer, but the cancer had spread. She leaves behind a son and a legacy of stories she pursued the irrepressible curiosity and delight. NPR's David Folkenflik has this remembrance.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Margot Adler died early today in the same apartment on New York's Upper West Side that she had grown up in, overlooking the trees of Central Park. Some of her most distinctive stories for NPR focused on the park and its meaning for her - this one from a piece on devastating storms that slammed New York in 2009.


MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: After walking several miles to see the damage, I went to look for my favorite tree, a huge London plane that three people holding hands would never get their arms around. It's still there with only a few branches torn off. The death of these old friends is so sad. At the same time, there's something so beautiful and primal about the power of a storm - of nature still beyond human control.

FOLKENFLIK: Margot Adler helped shape a lot we would call the NPR sound today - human, curious, conversational.


Now, she could do a story about nature walks through Central Park that so many other reporters - if they did it - they would skirt at the edge of cliche at every turn.

FOLKENFLIK: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED host Robert Siegel, a fellow New Yorker who first met her at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism 45 years ago.

SIEGEL: When she did it, it was fresh, and it was honest, and it was insightful. And the people were wonderfully real. She had a terrific feel for the place she came from.

FOLKENFLIK: She listened compassionately to others, especially to children.


ADLER: Like 10-year-old Unique.


ADLER: Like being one and only. Like being, like, the only one. That's fabulous. That's a great name.

FOLKENFLIK: As someone who sat right next to her for years, I can tell you the voice that you heard in her stories is just the one we heard in the news room. And that laugh - well, you can get a taste here, in a Halloween piece for which she had herself fitted with vampire teeth.


ADLER: Not bad, right? And I can even talk with them. (Laughing) It's pretty funny.

FOLKENFLIK: And in life and on air, Margot found delight in the most mundane things.


ADLER: Now, I confess, it would never have occurred to me to do yoga on the summer solstice. I'm more of a (singing) summer is a-coming in, singing kind of person to welcome summer. And it would never occur to me to do yoga in the middle of Times Square.

FOLKENFLIK: We heard that singing voice wafting over the stacks of books cluttering her desk on many occasions. Margot Adler was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the daughter of a psychiatrist and a schoolteacher and the granddaughter of Alfred Adler, the Viennese psychotherapist who was one of Sigmund Freud's chief collaborators.

Adler went to college at the University of California Berkeley in the 1960s, but returned home to New York. Margot got her start in broadcasting at the countercultural radio station WBAI, joining NPR in 1979. She evoked an earlier era in the network's history, always preferring feature stores on culture and characters, but filed many stores on breaking news, as well, from terrorism to politics to scandal to storms, as in this live update from Hurricane Sandy.


ADLER: There were scenes in lower Manhattan that are hard to believe. I think one subway tunnel station had ceiling-foot of water - up to the ceiling.

FOLKENFLIK: She was assured on the air. But once, when asked what it was like to be the granddaughter of the popularizer of the inferiority complex, Margot joked, why do you think I became a witch? Margot Adler was a high Wiccan priestess and explored her own evolving identity in writing "Drawing Down The Moon," seen as a definitional study of Pagan belief in the U.S. And when she married her longtime partner, John Gliedman, they jumped a broom.


ADLER: Well, I got into the idea of nature as my religion. And I got really into the idea of nature spirituality, Earth-based spirituality and sort of all those ancient holidays that seem to go back before we had sort of, quote, regular religion - like, you know, the main three or four.

FOLKENFLIK: Margot once wrote in an e-mail that she absorbed the values of many of her colleagues in developing her own view of life - a belief, she said in a world without snark, of deep values, and that despite everything she'd experienced and encountered and covered, an abiding belief that people were basically good. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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