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January 5, 2006

OBITUARY: Sarah Margaret (Peggy) Hodges

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside for School of Information Sciences (SIS) professor emeritus Sarah Margaret Hodges. She died Dec. 13, 2005, in Oakmont at the age of 94.

A prolific children’s author, storyteller and scholar, Peggy Hodges was known for her love of children’s literature and her dedication to the preservation of historic children’s books.

A graduate of Vassar College and the Carnegie Library School, she taught in Pitt’s School of Library and Information Sciences (predecessor of SIS) from 1964 until her retirement in 1978.

Among her many honors, she was named distinguished alumna of the Carnegie Library School and SIS in 1976 and received a University Bicentennial Medallion of Distinction in 1987. A scholarship was established in the School of Library and Information Sciences in her honor in 1989.

Library and information science department chair Maggie Kimmel studied under Hodges as a doctoral student. The two shared an interest in folklore and storytelling.

Kimmel recalls Hodges’s use of droll humor and dry wit in the classroom. “She was an inspiring teacher. I think most of her students would remember her for that,” Kimmel said.

Hodges also was instrumental in the development of the SIS Library’s Elizabeth Nesbitt Room, which houses a collection of historic children’s literature dating back to the 1600s.

Librarian Elizabeth Mahoney, Hodges’s bibliographer in the Nesbitt Room, remembers her as a meticulous scholar who was committed to extensive research when preparing her manuscripts.

“She was a person who was very knowledgeable about the field and what she wanted,” Mahoney said.

In establishing the Nesbitt Room, Hodges sought to ensure that future generations of children’s literature researchers would have the resource materials they needed.

“She had such a sense of ownership for the collection and what it means to the University to have such a prestigious collection, and what it means to scholarship,” Mahoney said.

“She responded to each and every donation to the Nesbitt Room,” Mahoney said, remembering Hodges as a dedicated practitioner of the nearly lost art of written correspondence. She continued to write personal thank-you notes to donors into her 90s, Mahoney said.

Hodges authored more than 50 books, many of them written following her retirement from the University. Her best-known book, “Saint George and the Dragon,” was honored for its illustrations with a 1985 Caldecott Medal.

Three of her books await publication: “Dick Whittington and His Cat,” set to be released in March, and “The Wee Little Christmas Cabin,” an Irish folktale scheduled for publication in September 2007, both by Holiday House. A third book, “Moses,” is to be published by Harcourt later this year.

Regina Griffin, Hodges’s editor at Holiday House for the past decade, remembers her as a “an incredibly graceful, gracious woman” who was a perfectionist with regard to her work. “She was uncompromising with the care with which she wrote,” Griffin said, remembering how, much later in the publication process than would be expected, Hodges would call to make changes that Griffin considered very simple and small — combining two sentences into one or changing two or three words.

Later, when the book was read aloud, Griffin said she found the changes had made a difference.

“She was doing it for how it sounds,” Griffin said, marveling at how much more graceful the changes would make the story.

Mahoney agreed. “The true measure of her skill came when her books were read out loud. That’s when you’d hear the rhythm and the storyteller and the elegance of her text,” she said.

While many of Hodges’s children’s stories were retellings of well-known folk tales or familiar stories, Griffin said they were never bland. “Hers were very elegantly told,” reflecting a respect for her young audience.

“She wanted it perfect for kids so it would last. That sort of respect showed.

“There was a care taken in everything she did. That was her legacy,” Griffin said.

Hodges’s storytelling was featured on radio and television, including WQED-TV’s “Tell Me a Story” broadcasts in the 1960s.

Music department chair Deane Root remembers Hodges’s stories as delightful to adults and children alike. Root succeeded Hodges’s husband, Fletcher Hodges Jr., as curator of the Stephen Foster Collection at Pitt more than two decades ago and through that connection became a close family friend.

Root recalls how Peggy Hodges loved to read stories to his children, and thinks fondly of her readings at the former children’s bookstore, Pinocchio, in Shadyside.

“She made you feel so natural. Nobody felt like they were in awe of the author. It was as if she were your aunt or your grandmother just reading with you,” he said. “I think a lot of people felt that way about her writing even if they didn’t know her,” he said.

Hodges is survived by her husband, three sons, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Contributions are suggested to the Margaret Hodges Scholarship, SIS, 135 N. Bellefield Ave, Pittsburgh 15260 or the Elizabeth Nesbitt Room, University Library System, Pittsburgh 15260.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 9

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