Marguerite Miller’s landing at Almanac as a temp employee in 1980 was a bit serendipitous, but the work she has done since is nothing short of pure passion.
“It was in my blood early on that I liked this sort of thing,” Miller says, chatting about her high school and college days involved with the student newspaper and yearbook.
Almanac, which touts itself as the University’s “journal of record,” will say goodbye to its longtime editor and advocate at the end of the semester, when Miller retires after a truly impactful tenure at Penn.
“As a faithful reporter on important moments and milestones in Penn’s history for four decades, Marguerite has illuminated and contextualized transformative changes on campus,” says Joann Mitchell, who, as Senior Vice President for Institutional Affairs, oversees the weekly publication. “Under her leadership, Almanac has a well-earned reputation of service that can be relied upon to provide news with fidelity and integrity.”
In loyal Miller fashion, she was actually slated to retire at the end of this past spring semester, at the height of COVID-19’s shock. But her dedication, especially amidst a worldwide pandemic, has ensured the publication’s success even during the most tumultuous of times.
Almanac, which morphed out of a monthly faculty-run newsletter, began its stretch as a weekly for faculty and staff early in the ’70s during Martin Meyerson’s presidency. A time similar to now—with misinformation and discontent writ large—Meyerson wanted to create a publication that showcased timely, credible, and reliable news and policies related to Penn, which also allowed for the right of reply and open expression. Almanac’s first editor of the weekly publication was Karen Gaines, who Miller still considers a mentor and friend. Gaines trained Miller as an assistant editor and later as an associate editor, and the two worked together for close to two decades before Gaines’ retirement in 1999. A nationwide search for Almanac’s successor landed right at home a year later: Miller became Almanac’s editor in 2000.
“While I waited to go in to speak with President [Judith] Rodin for my interview, I composed my thoughts and rubbed the foot of the Benjamin Franklin statue outside of College Hall,” says Miller, explaining the tale of how doing so “makes your wishes come true much faster.”
When Miller, who first joined Almanac’s staff on a whim while her husband was attending graduate school at Penn, reflects on the past 40 years, she can’t help but become nostalgic. She tells stories about each of the four Penn presidents—and one interim president—she’s worked under, and can recall each and every building on campus Almanac’s staff has worked out of. She remembers how Almanac operated—“it was a lot of hurrying up and waiting”—before voicemail messages, before computers, and before the internet existed. She also reminisces on what it was like to be a working mother, raising her two children while keeping the publication afloat.
“Until I could find child care, I came back to the office after my maternity leave with baby and diapers and the whole shebang,” Miller says, remarking that she could “type and nurse and answer the phone at the same time.”
Touting her experience as a “family affair,” Miller notes how it’s been a pleasure to watch her children “grow up at Penn.” Her daughter, Roberta, now an alumna of Penn’s Graduate School of Education, and son, Andrew, would not only accompany their mother to the office on occasion, but they’d also enjoy summer camps every year at Penn, attend memorable Annenberg Center events together, and so much more. As her children moved up and on, Miller has stayed extremely active on campus, whether by taking classes on occasion and attending Human Resources’ wellness events for staff (her favorite was yoga), to serving voluntarily on boards and executive committees of several University organizations including the MLK Commemorative Symposium Executive Planning Committee and the University Club Board of Governors.
“I think Penn is part of Marguerite’s DNA at this point,” says Louise Emerick, Almanac’s associate editor. “It’s a significant part of her identity in a very proud and good way. Whether she’s going to see talks, looking at sculptures on campus, or attending gallery exhibits, she gets involved in every piece of Penn and she loves it.”
Being in the know, of course, is a requirement of any Almanac editor. So has evolving with technology throughout the years. Almanac, before COVID-19, still existed as a print edition, but, for the past 23 years, has also been published online, with a weekly email newsletter sent out to its faculty, staff, trustee, overseer, emeritus faculty, retired staff, student, and alumni readers. More accessible than ever before, the publication serves as a way to keep folks abreast of new information, whether it involves coverage of Penn’s key governance components, new policies and programs, and annual reports, as well big donations, major hires, and honors and obituaries. In effect, Almanac is also an extremely important archive for researchers.
“It’s been an incredible journey, which is probably why it hasn’t seemed like so many years in the same place,” Miller says. “The ways we do things have evolved so dramatically. I think of President [Amy] Gutmann’s ‘Three R’s’: resourcefulness, resilience, and responsiveness. I love alliteration but it also resonated with me because those three words I could easily use to describe what we’ve had to do all these decades at Almanac.”
With a team of only three—Miller, Emerick, and web editor Alisha George—Almanac has always welcomed the wonderful assistance of the University’s work study students, some who served Almanac all four years of their Penn education. Miller estimates she has supervised at least 100 students, many of whom she’s still in touch with.
Emerick says one of her favorite things about Miller is her endearing love of birthdays. Work-study student or full-time staffer alike, without fail, Miller puts together cards and adds the special event to calendars.
“She even gives me presents for my kids on their birthdays,” Emerick says with a laugh. “She just loves personal connections, they are so important to her.”
When Miller talks about retirement, she notes how much she cares about Almanac and its future.
“She’s definitely Almanac’s strongest advocate,” says Emerick. “Almanac has stayed consistent because she fights for it, and she’ll prove its value to anyone who wants to know.”
Indeed, Miller says, “I’m not retiring because I don’t care anymore. I’m retiring because I almost feel that it is someone else’s turn.”
Looking ahead, Miller’s big plans for travel have been altered a bit, but she hopes to still be able to spend more time with family, especially her grandson who just turned 1. She wants to continue to stay active and healthy, cook and bake, and read and write, too.
“It’s kind of an adventure even though it’s not quite the one I imagined,” Miller says, noting her newfound interest in making bread from scratch.
As for Almanac, Emerick says its next leader will certainly have tough shoes to fill.
“The rolodex of information in Marguerite’s head—she has lived and breathed Almanac for so long—will be missed,” Emerick says. “We will definitely miss her dedication and ability to always pull it all together.”