Who was Lila Magie?

By Aileen Marshall

Who was Lila Magie?

During the summer months, I try to use the campus walkways to go between buildings, rather than the tunnels. Recently I was walking along the East Walkway, behind the Student’s Residence, near Bronk. I stopped when I noticed a sign I hadn’t seen before: “The Lila J. Magie Garden, In recognition of Lila’s outstanding service to The Rockefeller University from 1950 to 1991.” I wondered, who was Lila J. Magie and why did the University name a garden after her?

Photo: Lila Magie with David Rockefeller, by Leif Carlsson

Photo: Lila Magie with David Rockefeller, by Leif Carlsson

It turns out that she was a well-liked, long-term employee who left her estate to the University when she died on December 23, 2012. She was a native New Yorker, born in 1927, who went to Washington Irving High School. Magie received a degree from the Purdue University’s School of General Engineering in Liberal Sciences and started at Rockefeller in 1950. Her first position was as a stenographer in the business office. She then moved up to secretary in that office, then moved to personnel. She became responsible for staffing from 1954 until 1987, when she was promoted to the Director of Faculty Administration and Secretary to the Board of Trustees. Magie retired in 1991 and moved from Bronxville, NY to Rockland, ME, where she continued her gardening hobby.

While most of her career was in Human Resources (HR), her positions allowed her to interact with many different people on campus, from academic personnel to board members. She was known as the “go to” person around campus if someone needed to know something; the common phrase was “Go ask Lila.” Magie once took care of a school of pike for Dr. Herbert Gasser while he was away. HR was a good fit, since she had a reputation of being well liked by everyone. As Isiah Curry remembers her admiringly, “She was Human Resources.”

There was a dedication ceremony for the garden this past June, led by Marnie Imhoff, Senior Vice President of Development. During the ceremony, she talked about how when Magie retired, the University community put together a scrapbook of messages to her. There are entries of numerous people who knew and worked with her, including David Rockefeller, Brooke Astor, Christian de Duve, and Joshua Lederberg. The entry from Dr. Lederberg reads “Dear Lila – The stories we could swap… but don’t dare put to paper…”

When The Rockefeller University learned that Magie had left her entire estate to it, it was decided to dedicate a garden to her, since she was known as an ardent gardener. Rockefeller’s horticultural consultant, Lulu Leibel, chose from a list of flowering plants with Magie in mind, which also do well in the shade. There is a pink flowering dogwood tree in the garden. There are several flowering shrubs, including two different kinds of hydrangea, a holly bush and a lilac bush. Other flowers were planted there too, pink Astilbe, a pink coneflower, a heritage rose, and some Salvia. There are also several ferns and ornamental grasses in Magie’s garden.

This garden is evidence of what a great community culture we have here at Rockefeller. There are many long-term employees, for whom the University is like a second home, this author included. Also, check out Amelia Kahaney’s article about Magie in the next issue of Benchmarks to learn more about this venerable member of our campus.

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