The Visiting Nurse Association of Boston said farewell to Peggy Buckley this week. Here, from the Boston Globe, is her obituary. This will give you a good idea why she was so special... and why we'll miss her.
Traits that made her an accomplished social worker and a friend to whom everyone turned were apparent when Peggy Buckley was growing up in New York City.
“She had enormous insights into people and knew how to provide comfort and assurance to them, even as a young child,’’ said her older sister, Marlene of Bronxville, N.Y. “She would feel bad if another child was picked on at school. It bothered her. She always had an unusual sensitivity to the feelings of others when they felt hurt or wounded.’’
During about 40 years as a social worker in Boston, mostly in Charlestown and Dorchester, Ms. Buckley went beyond counseling clients. She worked to ease racial tensions during school desegregation and to reduce the number of lead poisoning cases among children.
Ms. Buckley, who since being diagnosed with cancer three months ago used her dwindling ability to speak to ask friends how they were coping and to give thanks for their care, died Monday in her Jamaica Plain home. She was 67.
“Over the past 20 years, she has helped thousands of seriously deprived and impaired clients reach their highest level of function,’’ Dr. Bennett Gurian, a former colleague of Ms. Buckley’s at Bowdoin Street Health Center in Dorchester, wrote in a nomination letter for the Bernice K. Snyder Award for excellence in social work, which she received in 2001. He added that “my life, as the only psychiatrist in this mammoth agency, has been made so much better by having Peggy Buckley as my collaborator.’’
As a clinician, Ms. Buckley “was always championing the underdog,’’ said her friend Tish Allen of Jamaica Plain.
Ms. Buckley also made time to champion the passions of her friends, as deft a social worker in private life as she was professionally.
“She was the most fantastic listener I have ever known,’’ Allen said. “You would have that feeling when you left of, ‘Oh, my God, I spoke 90 percent of the time.’ She would support you and make you the hero in her stories.’’
Ann Anderson of Jamaica Plain, whose friendship dates to when she and Ms. Buckley both lived in Charlestown, said: “Everyone felt free to tell her anything about anything. I think the single most striking thing about her, which is why she had so many friends, is that she was a wonderful listener.’’
That was also true when Ms. Buckley was a child, her sister said. Margaret Buckley, whose father was from County Kerry in Ireland and whose mother was from County Laois, was named for her maternal grandmother and grew up in the Bronx. While attending parochial school, she encountered classmates who had been wronged.
“She would come home and be very upset, and she would cry,’’ her sister said, “and my mother would suggest ways to handle it and how to approach the child and make the child feel better.’’
Ms. Buckley graduated in 1961 from St. Nicholas of Tolentine High School in the Bronx and went to the College of New Rochelle in New York, from which she graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She became a volunteer through VISTA, Volunteers in Service to America, a national organization formed that year, and worked first in Richmond, Calif., developing youth educational and recreational programs. Then she moved to Chicago, where through the Hull House Association she worked with low-income adolescents, principally Native Americans and teens who had moved with their families from poor Appalachian regions.
“She was not in an office,’’ said her former husband, Zachary Klein of Jamaica Plain, who met Ms. Buckley in Uptown, a neighborhood on Chicago’s north side. “She worked with gang members who lived in the neighborhood we both lived in at the time.’’
Ms. Buckley, he said, “was very, very good at picking out leaders of kids and would work with the leaders in order to actually sway more than just that one kid’’ away from gang activities and back into school or toward programs that helped them earn general equivalency diplomas.
“She was always someone who believed in social work and that clinical social work was absolutely imperative in society, especially for poor people who couldn’t afford the services that the middle class got,’’ Klein said.
The two married in 1970 and divorced after moving to Charlestown, where Ms. Buckley was executive director of the Charlestown Community Center. Along with coordinating counseling, education, and recreation programs, she turned the center into a place where those with opposing opinions of court-ordered busing knew their views would be heard.
At home, Ms. Buckley and Klein voluntarily had their son bused to a magnet school in Roxbury, where he studied in a diverse student population.
“Peggy worked against racism, but she also understood there was a lot more going on here,’’ said Anderson, who lived in Charlestown at the time. “It was about people who had no control over their lives, except for their kids, and suddenly they didn’t have control over that, either. The community center was a place where it was safe to voice different opinions, but where there was a firm line drawn against violence.’’
Ms. Buckley received a master’s in social work from Boston University in 1978, the year she began working at Bowdoin Street Health Center in Dorchester. Along with counseling clients, she played a key role in a collaborative that helped reduce lead paint poisoning cases among neighborhood children. While at the center, she received a master’s in public health from BU in 1994, and “was very supportive to all the staff and helpful on a personal level,’’ said Kathy Cook, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the center. “If there was trouble with a shooting in the neighborhood and the family came in, she would not only console them, but she would help the staff deal with the trauma. She really did multiple roles.’’
Ms. Buckley, who spent the past several years working for the Visiting Nurse Association of Boston and Affiliates, vacationed with friends annually on Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, always insisting they rent houses strategically positioned to be buffeted by restorative cool breezes.
She loved Christmas because the holiday brought families together, said her son, Matthew Klein of Brooklyn, N.Y., and took care to tell the story behind each ornament she placed on the tree.
“Materially, she was the opposite of self-indulgent,’’ he said, with one notable exception. She had a sweet tooth that was legend among family and friends. Sometimes when mother and son went out on errands, “we would stop at a corner store,’’ he said, “and she would let me get one treat, and she would get two treats. “She would say it was because her stomach was bigger.’’
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.