Obituary: Margaret Shadick Cyert / Wife of late CMU president had her own role on campus


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The spouse of a university president typically winds up with no shortage of campus responsibilities, too.

In the case of Margaret Shadick Cyert, 89, who died Wednesday, one of those roles grew into something of a tradition at Carnegie Mellon University. The wife of the late Richard Cyert, CMU president for 18 years starting in 1972, made it her mission in the fall to help new freshmen become acclimated, pointing out their dorms and easing their angst.

The nurturing was a logical extension for a women deeply interested in child development, those who knew her said. And it was one more way she bonded with the sprawling research campus during the more than half a century that the Cyerts were involved with Carnegie Mellon.

"She wanted to connect with individuals, and she cared a lot about those kids," said Lynn Cyert, her oldest daughter. "She and my dad cared very deeply about Carnegie Mellon."

Ms. Cyert was born in Hyattsville, Md., grew up in Princeton, Minn., and received a bachelor's degree in home economics from the University of Minnesota.

She and her husband came to Pittsburgh not long after World War II. It was 1948, and Richard, who had just received his doctorate from Columbia University, moved from New York to accept a $3,400-a-year job teaching economics at what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology. He rose through the ranks in the years that followed.

The wife of the president built her niche on campus around her husband's needs and her own interest in child development. She attended trustee meetings to stay informed, entertained in their Fox Chapel home and took on such duties as hosting events for new faculty and administrators and serving on the graduation committee.

"It's like being the minister's wife," she told The Pittsburgh Press in a 1986 interview. "You have to know everyone, but it's your husband [or wife] who has the job."

In fact, free coffee and food on the steps of Doherty Hall during exams -- a practice she created -- became known as "Margaret's Muffins," wrote Carnegie Mellon professor emeritus Edwin Fenton in "Carnegie Mellon, 1900-2000: A Centennial History."

In 1982, she received a master's degree in child development from the University of Pittsburgh.

A significant beneficiary of her interest and support was the Carnegie Mellon Child Care Center. In 1998, it was renamed the Margaret Shadick Cyert Center for Early Education and Program for Collaborative Learning.

Another was the Carnegie Mellon library, where she was a founding member of its development board and worked in support of fundraising efforts.

She was chosen to be an honorary alumna and received the Andrew Carnegie Society Award for her efforts for the university. For the past 14 years, she resided at the Longwood at Oakmont retirement community, and she died with staff and family at her side, the university said.

Surviving are her three daughters, Lynn Cyert of Tulsa, Okla.; Lucinda Steffes of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Martha Cyert of Palo Alto, Calif.; a sister, Evelyn March of Chula Vista, Calif., and three grandsons.

Plans for a memorial service have not been determined.

Bill Schackner:, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.


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