This special issue of The Interculturalist: A Periodical of SIETAR USA, is dedicated to the memory and contributions of Margaret (Peggy) Pusch, our founder—a leader and major contributor to the intercultural field. This issue begins with my reflections on my friend, followed by the story of Peggy’s life written by her husband Lew Pusch, and her son Rob. An overview of her professional career was written by Nan Sussman. A number of people contributed personal memories of their time with Peggy. People are welcome to submit further personal memories of Peggy, which will be published in the February issue. This issue closes with information about the January webinar as well as the calendar of events for this month.
It was 1979, at the annual SIETAR conference being held in Mexico City where I first met Peggy Pusch. Her knowledge of the intercultural field was evident, and she impressed me as one of the leaders of SIETAR (yes, that is what it was called in those days; International got added later and USA even later than that). Little did I know then that this was the beginning of a 40-year friendship.
I soon realized that although she was not shy about taking the reins and being the public face of SIETAR, she was a master of the behind-the-scenes work that made the organization hum. In the 1980’s the field was still small and Peggy knew everyone and their special skills. She was also willing to take a chance on someone new because she could mentor and guide a person to get the best out of them. She had a keen sense of who could fill the roles required to organize the annual conference, serve on the Board of Directors, or take on a project like one that I worked on to assess whether SIETAR should get into the business of certifying interculturalists. As Executive Director of SIETAR USA, Peggy kept future requirements in mind so that she would start working with someone she thought could put on a good conference well before it was time to get started. Of course, she was there to support the person every step of the way.
Peggy’s diplomatic skills saved SIETAR USA many times. She had a way of re-framing a situation so that all parties felt that they had been heard. She seemed to be creating an “island” on which both people could work together. Very early on, I sent an insensitive message to someone who had proposed a paper-reading session for a SIETAR conference when I was the Program Chair. In essence, I said that I couldn’t imagine anyone reading a paper in one of our conference sessions. Peggy responded to me, acknowledging that indeed we did tend toward interactive sessions but that we could make room for a paper-reading session. And to the other person she explained that even though we preferred an interactive session, that she could see including her session especially if the proposal included an active Q&A at the end. A very small example, but we both felt supported and ok with the outcome.
Anyone who trained with her or took one of Peggy’s workshops, recognized her skills as a trainer. In fact, she was so good that she was a bit intimidating. Whenever I had the opportunity, I would sit in on one of her workshops to learn from watching her in action. Later in my career she and I trained together a variety of times, for example, we conducted a full-day workshop on simulation games at the Summer Institute. We carefully planned the day together but forgot to discuss a few details. It turned out that while we were running Barnga we discovered that we did it differently. I wasn’t about to back down nor was she, so the participants got a first-hand look at how co-trainers can work out a process disagreement without disrupting the entire activity.
One other skill Peggy owned that surpassed most others was her editing ability. She always had in mind that she did not want authors to be embarrassed by less than skillful writing. She also insisted on clarity. Murky sentences were an anathema. She was anything but timid in her editing and if she sensed a better, clearer way of saying what she thought the author had in mind, she would re-write it to her high standards. As I began gently editing the 2-volume Intercultural Sourcebook, I tried hard to keep the authors’ voices, which often meant some murkiness crept in. As I submitted the first few completed sections of the Sourcebook, she applied her heavy editing pen and freed me up to do the same, reminding me that one needs to hold high standards and to apply them whatever the situation.
I learned a lot from her over the 40 years we had together—she could be tough, compassionate, innovative, traditional, caring, playful, and deeply thoughtful. Where would we in the intercultural field be without her guidance and support over the years? I don’t know the answer to that, but I am so very grateful that we didn’t have to find out.
Sandra M. Fowler
President SIETAR USA