Recently I learned of the death of Margaret Dalrymple on August 12th at the age of 83. Margaret was a scholar who received a masters in art history from Stanford and a Phd in history from the University of Washington. After obtaining her PhD she taught history at the Sorbonne in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship. In addition to her stellar academic qualifications she had broad interests in a variety of fields including cooking, art, travel, gardening and apparently a penchant for rescuing cats. She lived in places as diverse as Calgary, Petaluma, Seattle and Baton Rouge, before settling into Reno in 1995 to begin working for the University of Nevada Press.
But I didn’t know about any of her illustrious history. To me she was my first contact with the University of Nevada Press in 2006 when I was attempting to get my backpacking guidebook out into the world. She was at the time the acquisitions editor, which is a gatekeeper whose job it is to weed out all those unsuitable manuscripts and find a few gems for the Press to publish. When I returned with another book in 2021 “Going it Alone: Ramblings and Reflections from the Trail,” Margaret had returned from retirement. My book was one of the last books she worked on.
After writing the guidebook to the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2002, for some reason I decided my next project was to provide a primer on how to backpack. Once I thought I’d completed the manuscript to the peak of perfection I contacted University of Nevada Press and that is when I met Margaret, or I should say spoke to her on the phone. In a 15 year professional relationship I never actually met her in person.
Ah, but to hear her voice, you certainly feel as if you have met her in person. Anyone who had a lengthy conversation with Margaret will never forget her voice. It was pleasant and smooth. Slow and deliberate and loaded with a combination of what I thought had to be southern gentility and urbane sophistication. Her voice just made you want to grab a fan and a glass of sweet tea and sit on a screened porch for a spell while she told stories. I was somewhat shocked when I read in her obituary that she was born in Calgary, Canada and had spent much of her life in California and Nevada.
Margaret always made me feel like she was utterly fascinated with my book and was in my corner, even while gently telling me I needed to rewrite the whole damn thing. She said this backpacking guidebook I was writing would not work for UN Press, but she absolutely loved my chapter on backpacking with kids and suggested I could expand that into a book.
I went back to the drawing board with the measly remains of my book, and began to discover she was right. From the age my daughters were six to about eighteen I backpacked with them regularly. It was a true highlight of my life and probably the most important thing I ever did with them. Margaret saw that the chapters in the book that talked about the kids was where my passion and writing shone brightest. It was also where I got a chance to play and add humor to the text. I expanded this section, added personal essays and elaboration on my misadventures with my kids and eventually turned it into Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children. Margaret was there with encouragement and direction to help make the book as good as it can be. And she understood that I could write better about what I was passionate about. It must be that voice, because even though she made me rewrite the whole book, I never held it against her.
My girls eventually gave up backpacking, partly due to getting older, and partly due to their father taking them on hikes that I shouldn’t have. So I began taking backpacking trips on my own, keeping a journal of my trips.
In 2020, the Covid pandemic forced me to hunker down with those journals and write what would become “Going it Alone, Ramblings and Reflections from the trail.” It actually turned into a story that was part nature journal and part a reflection of the conflict between my desire to be alone in the woods, and my discovery that once I got there it can be quite lonely. I approached UN Press again with the book and was surprised to find myself once again being treated to the sound of Margaret’s voice telling me how she loved the book, but also letting me know that I still had lots of work to do.
UN Press requires two reviewers to read and approve a book before publication. Reviewers sometimes give detailed suggestions for improvements before giving their approval for publication. Like most writers my sentences are my darlings, and I hate killing those darlings. So I was initially not happy when one of the reviewers thought the work needed quite a few revisions, many of which I disagreed with. But Margaret was there to once again, gently lead me forward to do the work I didn’t want to do. She was also there defending my version of the book, and told me repeatedly that the revisions would really improve it and would not take away from the story I was telling. She was right, sure there was a lot of kicking and screaming, but I made changes and the book was much better afterwards.
i had no idea that while I was bitching about revisions, Margaret had been fighting cancer for several years. I imagine now reading and rereading my sentences while facing that battle was a challenge to say the least. I’m hoping that the humor in the book lifted her spirits at a time I’m sure she needed it the most.
While my connection with Margaret Dalrymple was limited to her rescuing two books for me, to those who worked with her for years, she was an inspiration.“ Margaret was a mentor to not only me, but the entire staff at the Press,” said Joanne Banducci, Director, University of Nevada Press. “She came out of retirement, for the third time, to help with acquisitions in 2020, to keep a consistent flow of projects. She would write the most elegant rejection letters so that we had prospective authors thanking us for rejecting their project. She was one of the kindest persons I have ever known, and always had an amazing way with words. There is a hole in my heart, but I am grateful to have known such a wonderful person.”
Thank you Margaret Dalrymple. I hope you knew the impact you had on my writing and on the work of so many other writers.
There will be a celebration of life on Sunday, September 18, 2022, at 2 p.m. at Sundance Books and Music, in Reno. Call (775) 682-7387 for more information. A Margaret Dalrymple Memorial Endowment Fund has been set up that will support the operations of the University of Nevada Press and will honor Margaret’s legacy in the publishing industry in perpetuity. Donations can be made by visiting University of Nevada Reno Foundation’s website.
Tim Hauserman is a freelance writer and nearly a life-long resident of North Lake Tahoe. In Addition to Going It Alone, he wrote the official guide to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the recently published 4th edition. He also wrote Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children and has written hundreds of articles on a variety of topics: travel, outdoor recreation, housing, education, and wildfires. Check out Tim’s website here.
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