Margaret Marion Saks Walker

Margaret Marion Saks Walker

ALTAMONT — Peggy Walker tried her hardest to make the world a better place, said her daughter, Dr. Elise Saks, and she made a difference. 

She died peacefully in her sleep at her Altamont home on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. She was 73.

Margaret Marion Saks Walker was born to Alfred and Eleanor Saks on Jan. 6, 1947, in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Alfred Saks sold shoes, moved up to buyer, and later managed a sporting-goods store; Dr. Saks said that her grandmother was a homemaker while the children were young and went on to be a secretary at a hospital later in life. 

“Peggy’s late parents,” her family wrote in a tribute, “nurtured a deep living faith rooted in the Roman Catholic tradition and instilled ingenuity and morality of a high order.” 

Dr. Saks said that her mother grew up in a Catholic household where the assumption was the girls would go to work after graduation, but the nuns said that her mother had to go to college, “which wasn’t the expectation for her.”

The nuns and her Catholic-college experience instilled in her mother that people mattered, that, if you had a gift, “it was your job in life to use your gift to make the world a better place,” Dr. Saks said.

Her mother was the type of person who “lived her faith,” Dr. Saks said, “in the sense that she valued human dignity,” and treated people with respect, “and thought that people mattered, and that our interactions with people really mattered ….”

She went to Rosary Hill College, fell in love with psychology, had multiple children, and, although it took her a while, she eventually earned her Ph.D., in 1987, from the State University of New York at Albany, in children’s reasoning — winning an award for her dissertation, her daughter said.

Dr. Walker never dropped out of school in all those 20 years between earning her bachelor’s degree and being awarded her doctorate, her daughter said. “She did a little bit here, a little bit here” as she was teaching within that community.

As Dr. Walker was earning her doctoral degree, she worked full-time, and taught at the University at Albany, Russell Sage College, and what was at one time called the Junior College of Albany.

Dr. Walker would get up early and stay up late; she had a “can-do spirit,” Dr. Saks said when asked how her mother was able to stay the course for two decades working toward her doctorate.  

Dr. Walker also commuted to New York City for a postdoctoral fellowship, earning a neuropsychology certification, Dr. Saks said.

“Her interest was always in children’s reasoning, first and foremost, and children’s learning — and she did go to bat for people,” Dr. Saks said. She would not only perform the testing, she would advocate with the school district on behalf of children.

In recent years, her mother had worked with children and adults who had social and emotional needs, Dr. Saks said.

Dr. Walker always had her cell phone with her so that her patients could reach her. “She’d be at my house for a holiday dinner, and people would be calling her with their concerns,” her daughter recalled. “So, she didn’t do a very good job of setting boundaries, because she really is somebody who kind of gave all of herself to whoever was in front of her.”

Many of her patients had no insurance, or were very poor, Dr. Saks said; consequently, her mother didn’t bill a lot of people. She added that Dr. Walker would spend more than the allotted time with patients.

As a physician herself, Dr. Saks said that, when she’s tried to refer patients to mental-health professionals, a lot of them are unwilling to take on patients who may be low-income or have trouble paying their bills — there are limits in terms of the sort of social situations that some mental-health professionals are willing to take on, she said. 

“And my mom took people who had really terrible circumstances, and were very, very poor, and really went to bat [for them], especially for kids,” Dr. Saks said.

“For somebody who was 73, she wasn’t just working full-time, she was working full-time and more — and being on call on the telephone all the time,” Dr. Saks said. Her mother would work during the day and then work on children’s neuropsychology tests in the evening.

Dr. Walker wouldn’t take a vacation because she cared too much about patients, her daughter said, and, when it came time to retire, she couldn’t do it, because she knew there wouldn’t be anyone who would take on her patients.

She was equally committed to her family.

“Peggy’s children and grandchildren were her pride and joy,” Dr. Walker’s family wrote in a tribute. “Their individual accomplishments and devotion to making the world a better place were a constant source of happiness for her. She loved them with all her heart and was deeply connected to them. 

“Peggy was a pioneering, hardy soul who taught her children that there was ‘always a way’ and to ‘trust intuition,’” her family wrote. “She encouraged her children, and patients alike, to ‘listen to the wisdom of others but think for yourself.’”

Dr. Walker engendered in her children the belief that they could do anything, Dr. Saks said, noting that, among her first three born, two have M.D.’s and  one has a Ph.D.

“Peggy believed in the intrinsic value and dignity inherent in every living being. She was unpretentious and genuinely kind,” her family wrote. “She lived with humor and lightness, embracing others with recognition of their wholeness and worthiness. She valued resourcefulness and resilience exemplifying both of these qualities over the course of her life.”

Asked about her mother’s hobbies, Dr. Saks answered: working, reading, and seeing her kids, adding that, perhaps not a hobby, but Dr. Walker was interested in nature and animals, and the environment around her home.

“She loved her spot at the end of Leesome Lane,” Dr. Saks said, “because you could see down, all over Albany.”

The land where Dr. Walker lived, near High Point, was previously owned by a Guilderland middle school principal, Dr. Saks said, and, when he retired and the land went up for sale, “she desperately, desperately wanted that property.” 

It reminded her of Lake Wallenpaupack in Pennsylvania, where her family would vacation when she was younger, Dr. Saks said of her mother.  Seeing the animals and the birds around High Point, she said, gave her mother “tremendous pleasure.”

High Point was her dream; her job was her dream. She always wanted to be a psychologist ever since she discovered the profession as an undergraduate. “There was nothing else she wanted to be — she was determined to be it,” Dr. Saks said of her mother.

Dr. Walker was quite the reader. There were 15 books by her bedside when Dr. Saks was last there, she said. “The thing about my mother is that she would always think she knew everything but she would usually be right, because she read so much,” Dr. Saks said. Her mother loved to read the science section of The New York Times. “She read that avidly,” her daughter said.

Dr. Walker liked talking to people about ideas, her daughter said, and “it seemed like she knew everyone in Altamont.”

Dr. Walker’s family “is tremendously proud of her and of her accomplishments,” and wrote, “She will live on in the hearts of all those she touched.” 

****

Margaret Marion Saks Walker is survived by her husband, Newton Farmer Walker III; her children: Elise Saks, M.D., Jennifer Gafford, Ph.D., Susan Walker, M.D., Sara Walker, and Matthew Walker; and by her grandchildren: Alex, Ben, Evan, Spencer, Eleanor, Olivia, and Jeremiah.

She is also survived by her siblings: Joseph Saks, Martha Saks Cusick, and Alfred M. Saks Jr.

Memorial messages may be left at www.altamontenterprise.com/milestones.

For those who wish to honor Dr. Walker’s memory, her family is grateful for personal acts of kindness in her name. Donations in Dr. Walker’s memory may be made to the Altamont Community Food Pantry (122 Grand St. Altamont, NY 12009) or to The Little Free Pantry in Berne (care of Ted Kunker, 664 Gifford Hollow Road Berne, or items may be dropped off at the pantry itself at 1872 Helderberg Trail in Berne) “to help the community she served and loved so dearly,” her family wrote.

— Sean Mulkerrin

 

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