June 8, 1998
Volume 50, No. 33
Margaret George is Emory's octogenarian 'doll'
Margaret George has a confession to make. She knows a secret about her membership in Soroptimist International, a worldwide service organization for professional women.
George gained admission to the organization in the 1960s. After she came to work in purchasing for Emory in 1961, the University published her book on her lifelong love of doll collecting. Her collection of new and antique dolls now numbers more than 1,000 pieces, and some 30 years ago she wrote a book about it, a book that gained her entry into the soroptimist club. Leaning over a small table in the vending room of the Administration Building, she whispered her secret in a deep Southern drawl: "I'm in there," she said, her eyes lighting up, "under false pretenses!
"I was invited to come to this Soroptimist meeting, and the only [professional classification] they could find for me was 'Writer of Doll Books,'" she said. "You are supposed to get 60 percent of your livelihood from your classification-I had that one book printed, and I sold 2,000 of them, and I quit.
"But they had to think of something. They can think up anything," George mused. "They got one in Texas that's a hog caller."
She hasn't called any hogs, but George has reported to work faithfully for the past 37 years, and Emory rewarded her last week with a June 4 celebration marking her 80th birthday. Most folks would long be collecting pensions at her age, but the newly minted octogenarian has no such intentions. Just the opposite, in fact. "I'm not quitting," George said. "They'll have to kick me out."
"I'm No. 17 of 19 children, and there are only three of us left, me and my two younger brothers," she said. "I don't have any responsibilities but myself. So I work."
Which is exactly what she's done since the death of her parents in 1959. Caring for her mother and father had been George's primary calling since leaving the Women's Army Corps during World War II. She'd earned a top-secret G-2 classification, working in communications centers up and down the East Coast. But when her parents' health began to decline, she got out. "I spent three years, four days, four hours, 29 minutes and one-half in the Army," George said, "and the 29 minutes and one-half was the longest because they had to correct misspellings on my discharge papers."
So George returned to her home in Vinings, on what is now "the middle of Cumberland Mall." After her parents' deaths, she moved to Decatur and answered a newspaper ad for a job at Emory two years later. And here she's been ever since, more or less doing the same thing: sorting all incoming mail, first for purchasing for about 20 years and since then for accounts payable.
"They had an efficiency expert come in here," George recalled. "When she got through writing down everything I do-in case I was out-it took her nine pages. It's really amazing how the job of opening up the mail has grown because I did a lot of other things that didn't have anything to do with the mail when I first came here."
One thing that's remained constant for George is her devotion to doll collecting. She still has the first doll she ever owned-a Schoenhutt doll from Philadelphia which her mother bought in 1911 and gave to her the year she was born. She's built and furnished two complete Victorian doll houses and regularly attends meetings of various doll clubs and associations to which she belongs. In fact, two weeks before her recent birthday she was at Disneyworld for a United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC) convention.
"I've loved them all my life," George said. "I didn't really start collecting antiques until I lost my parents. I used to buy these little old dolls that are about five inches tall and dress them all up in different ways and give them as Christmas presents. I just enjoy it, period."
Among her favorites is a portrait doll of her mother, custom-made by the Institute of American Doll Artists. George's oldest doll was made in 1830, and she even has a few less-vintage models: "I own two Barbie dolls just to say I own them. I do not collect Barbie dolls."
"I've got a book that says dolls are art," George said. "If I just walk by one, the doll's liable to say, 'Hey, take me home.' This one that I got at the [UFDC convention], I looked at it three days before I bought it. But every time I went into the sales room, I'd go right straight towards it, so I had to get it. There was no way out of it."
There may be a way out of full-time work for George, but right now she's not willing to look for it. "Everybody wants to know how come I don't quit and go on these conventions like I was last week; if I did, where's the money coming from to go?" Margaret George shook her head. "Most people when they retire go downhill. I don't want to go downhill."