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A Bequest to Last a Lifetime: In Memory of Margaret Aydelotte

By Opportunity International

In 1953, a time when women were still excluded from many colleges and professions, Margaret Walker was making her own way. A London native, she excelled in the sciences and received a scholarship to attend Cambridge University’s Newnham College, where she pursed a degree in zoology and physiology. She stayed at Cambridge for her PhD in physiology, feeding a lifelong passion that would take her across the ocean, across another country, and across a lifetime. 

Shortly after receiving her PhD, friends set Margaret up on a blind date with an American graduate student, James Aydelotte. At the time, James was a visiting scholar from the Princeton Seminary School. They would be married within the year, after visiting the United States, where Margaret took a summer research fellowship in California.  After their wedding, the young couple stayed in Cambridge three more years, while James finished his degree and Margaret taught as junior faculty—another rare position for not only her gender, but also her age.

The Aydelottes were married for 53 years, until Margaret’s passing in 2015. “It was not nearly long enough,” James notes. “It was a wonderful relationship.” Together, they raised three children and dedicated their lives to the service of others through research, teaching, faith, and charity. The legacy of Margaret’s research lives on through her students and work; the legacy of her faith and charity lives on through a generous bequest made to Opportunity International.

In addition to the deep love from her family, Margaret was a highly respected professor and researcher, holding positions at Tarkio College in Missouri, Franklin College of Indiana, the University of Iowa, and Indiana University. Eventually, the Aydelotte family eventually settled in Chicago, where Margaret taught at Rush Medical College and James managed the Rotary International Foundation. Margaret’s 17-year tenure at Rush ultimately led to her own lab studying arthritis and her decision to retain professor emerita status after retirement. “She enjoyed her scientific work very much. She thought she was doing some good,” James said.

It was through James’ work administering grants that they learned about Opportunity International. “We were particularly taken with helping out women in developing countries particularly in starting up small enterprises,” he recalls. “It might sound small to people here, but it may make all the difference to them.” The couple were certainly no strangers to the trailblazing work women accomplish when support is combined with determination.

Another important component of the Aydelotte family’s attraction to Opportunity, in addition to prioritizing women, was the incredibly high success rate in loan repayment. With James’ experience administering grants and Margaret’s experience as a frequent grant recipient, they understood the importance of knowing where and how the funds were allocated. “We thought that was a much a better way of doing things than just handing out grants,” said James. 

Margaret’s generosity and dedication to others has continued beyond life itself, with the bequest to Opportunity included in her will. “I, myself, have put Opportunity International in my will. Hopefully, if you don’t mind, I hope that isn’t too soon,” admits James with a chuckle.

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