Margaret “Peggy” Boyle Whitworth, a long-time and passionate voice for the arts and the community, died Friday after a battle with cancer. She was 71.
The director of the Brucemore for 26 years, from 1981 to 2007, Whitworth led the historic mansion’s transformation after it was turned into a National Trust for Historic Preservation site.
David Janssen, the Brucemore’s current director, said Whitworth’s presence will be deeply missed by those who knew her and strangers alike.
“It’s a personal loss for many of us who worked with her, but it’s also a significant loss for our society,” he said. “She was quite simply a force in the community. Brucemore has become a hub for cultural activity due in part to her tireless efforts and her passion.”
Throughout her life, Whitworth served on numerous boards across Linn County and the state, including the Iowa Public Television Board, the Iowa State Historical Society Foundation, the Cedar Rapids Symphony-Orchestra Iowa board and the Iowa Board of Pharmacy, among others.
She was the representative for Cedar Rapids arts and cultural groups on the city’s Recovery and Reinvestment Coordinating Team after the 2008 flood, helped raise corporate funds for the renovation of CSPS and served on the Oakhill Jackson New Bohemia Neighborhood Development Corp. board, which focused on redeveloping the New Bo district.
Orchestra Iowa CEO Robert Massey worked with Whitworth in her role on the Orchestra Iowa board and throughout the Paramount Theatre’s restoration. He said her legacy will go on.
“Peggy was a tireless advocate for the arts community and Orchestra Iowa. Because of her the Paramount restoration was done right,” he said. “I think our community has lost a cultural icon, but I think her mark on the cultural landscape is permanent.”
Whitworth’s passion for community involvement extended beyond the arts. An early supporter of Barack Obama, she was a Democratic National Convention delegate for Cedar Rapids in 2008 and 2012 and an active Obama campaign volunteer. Before working for Brucemore, Whitworth worked for former Iowa Sen. John Culver, a Democrat and father of former Iowa governor Chet Culver.
Iowa Democratic Party executive director Troy Price said Whitworth served as a mentor for himself and countless others. He credited her with helping propel Obama to victory.
“She was one of the hardest working people out there,” he said. “Every time you were around her she helped energize the room.”
Former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said Whitworth’s political and community activism started with the birth of her son Patrick, who is mentally disabled.
“She was thrust into that position when Patrick was born,” Dvorsky said. “When political activism is at its best it is people who are making the community a better place in whatever way that means to them.”
Dvorsky said that is just what Whitworth did.
“She was a force of nature. When she wanted things to happen, she made them happen. Peggy changed Brucemore, she changed Cedar Rapids and in her work for Obama she changed the world. She was a terrific political mind,” Dvorsky said. “The president really cared about Peggy.”
Her brother Tim Boyle extolled her ability to create change.
“While Peggy was small in stature she cast a long and vivid shadow across the community in a lot of ways,” he said. “She always tried to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
In 1987 Whitworth was one of the first women to be admitted to Cedar Rapids Rotary. Her long-time friend Donna Sorensen, chair of the board of the Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust, said Whitworth paved the way for women across Eastern Iowa.
“She was an icon in Cedar Rapids,” Sorensen said. “They will never be anybody like Peggy Whitworth. She was one of a kind.”
Funeral arrangements are pending with Stewart Baxter Funeral Home.