Margret Berendes, M.D. (née Salomon, later Meyhoefer) was forever outgoing. She approached anyone, at any time. On a cross-country drive, a police officer pulled her over for speeding. As it happened, she and her passengers had left their driver’s licenses behind, so the officer asked her to sit with him in the cruiser to confirm her identification. Twenty minutes later, she returned with a ticket and the officer’s life story. She stayed in touch with German family and friends by phone and then email. She brought younger people, many young enough to be her children, into her circle and kept in touch to support them and share her own adventures.
And yet she considered herself shy. And she was – she was often concerned about what people would think — the result of a double fall from grace. Early childhood in Munich and Berlin was good. But her father died when she was nine, and her mother was left to raise Margret and her sister, Elizabeth, on her own sometimes meager earnings as a translator, and Margret became the driver to keep the family going.
And drive she did. She studied to be a physician, when women doctors were rare, passing her final exams in Berlin weeks before V-E Day in 1945, commuting to classes through rubble.
She married Heinz Berendes, a physician, established a successful internal medicine practice, and then, in 1953, immigrated to Minnesota. Her children were born there.
In 1960, after the family moved to Washington, DC, she achieved another childhood goal by becoming a psychiatrist. She worked primarily as a psychoanalyst, but also published on LSD-assisted psychotherapy.
Her energy extended as well to travel and hobbies. She planned family trips throughout the U.S., Germany, France, Italy, Iceland, and the former Czechoslovakia. On her own, she visited Antarctica, Scandinavia, South Africa, South America, Haiti (with her mother, late in her mother’s life), India, and China.
Some hobbies became second careers. Enigma, a morality play for adults, presented with puppets, was featured in the Washington Post and the Evening Star in 1962. One reporter asked her how she found the time. “You must rob sleep”, Margret replied.
As a puppeteer, she combined art and engineering. For Astranea, in 1984, she experimented endlessly to mold puppet heads and hands that were practical and satisfied her creative vision. Her shelves full of chemicals and experimental efforts would have been at home in a mad scientist’s laboratory. With the help of many friends, Astranea was performed in Telluride at Margret’s home.
Margret powered through many reversals. When she and her husband felt out of place in Minneapolis and considered returning to Germany, Margret found a house on a lake, and they began to enjoy the US. (Friends came to visit by seaplane!) Twenty years later, when her marriage became troubled, she built the home in the mountains she’d wanted since her childhood, touring the Southwestern US and falling in love with Telluride, a then small mining and ski town almost 9000 feet up in the Colorado Rockies.
In the mid-1980’s, now divorced, Margret became the Mental Health Director of Bethel, Alaska. She hosted many visitors and delighted in telling stories of making “house calls” by bush plane and traveling across the tundra by dog sled.
After 1997, it seemed that things would quiet down. She retired to Telluride – the town that had become her home – and filled her life with hiking, cross-country skiing, friends, and travel.
Margret took up writing, publishing two novels based on her time as a mental health director in Western Alaska – Where Time is Round and Ravens Ride the Wind (2000) – and in Washington, DC – The Arabic Anka Pendent (2002).
Then Jim Goff arrived. In 2002, Jim moved to Telluride, and he and Margret quickly came to share their lives and inspire their friends. She once confided that Jim had shown her more tenderness than she had ever experienced. Jim’s arrival widened Margret’s circle of friends even further. They explored the mountains and traveled all over the Southwest. Alas, Jim died suddenly, in January 2006 and life became much more difficult.
She moved to Capitol Hill late in 2007 to live with her son and daughter-in-law. With their help and that of her devoted caregiver and companion Pamela Drakes-Shepherd, she joined a raucous senior swim aerobics and coffee corps and spent Wednesday mornings in the St Marks Bible Class. She mastered her cellphone to stay in touch with old friends and continued her love affair with chocolate and pastry. But illness gnawed at her life and enthusiasm until, on March 2, 2014, she died peacefully at home.
Margret is survived by her son Christoph and his wife Elin Whitney-Smith, her daughter Andrea, Andrea’s husband Christopher Harmer, their children (Margret’s grandchildren) Brian and Megan, and nephews Christian and Hannes, and niece Elizabeth.
A celebration of Margret’s life is planned for Telluride on Saturday, July 12. For more information, contact
The family asks that those who wish to do so make donations in Margret’s name to
Attn: Larry Rosen
P.O. Box 2255
Telluride, CO 81435