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When I first moved to San Diego in 1972, Neil Morgan’s wife, Judith, and I were among the few professional women in the San Diego Junior League. Every year throughout the 1970s and ’80s, the league hosted a huge rummage sale at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Judith and I were put in charge of the books section because we were labeled as the “bookish ones” and “independent professional women.” We were something of an aberration.
Eventually, the Morgans and the Walshoks — myself and my late husband Marco — became good friends.
At that time, I was in charge of creating “women’s programs” for UCSD Extension to support the influx of women returning to school and entering the workforce. Back then, that was the hot issue in higher education and the workplace — women moving beyond their traditional domestic roles.
When Dick Atkinson, then the chancellor, appointed me as dean of the school in 1980, it was only natural that Neil quickly became one of my most trusted advisors. Our shared goal was to make the university more relevant to the San Diego community.
With my sociology background and numerous friends such as Neil, I was able to relate positively to Atkinson’s vision.
Of course, as anyone who knew Neil well knows, he was never shy about offering advice. He counseled me on everything, from the need to help diversify San Diego’s economy, the need to help this region connect to Mexico, to the need to contribute to a more sophisticated civic culture. These were all things he cared about deeply, things that needed to be done.
We took Neil’s advice seriously. He opened many doors for senior leadership at the university.
He was a trusted counselor, advisor and critic, sometimes in person and sometimes in his column in The Evening Tribune, the spirited afternoon paper he wrote for and where he later served as editor.
The unrelenting support for UCSD and Extension he voiced in the column — as well as his criticism, cheerfully given — was always welcome, always invaluable.
In addition, he was so much fun to be with, travel with, have dinner with, talk with about all the things we cared about — good books, good music, the arts, travel, food, theater, politics, the latest gossip and scandals. There was always something on his mind, something important he wanted to tell me, something I needed to know.
I always listened. Equally, he listened.
He was a true sophisticate, a highly literate intellectual whose close friends, newsmakers and confidantes reached far beyond San Diego. But — and this mattered — he wasn’t full of himself. And he was always so approachable, so willing to laugh at himself and the crazy things we laughed about.
Neil’s special gift to all of us was bringing the larger world to San Diego, and projecting San Diego to the larger world.
Mary Lindenstein Walshok is an author, educator and researcher who has lived in San Diego since 1972. She serves UC San Diego as Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Programs, Dean of UC San Diego Extension and adjunct professor of sociology. This post first appeared on UC San Diego Extension’s blog, which you can find here.