Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Remembering Margot Lucoff, Part II

Close Friends are Family Invited in by the Heart...

During the first year of my friendship with Margot Lucoff, we began exchanging weekend visits. At age 13, I was hungry for information about the world, in general, and her Jewish home life was so different from my own sheltered one that it felt a bit like Pandora's box.

Margot Lucoff, graduation photo from Kennedy
High School, Richmond, California, 1971.

Margot's family moved to the Bay Area from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In a "funny twist of fate," as one of her friends put it, Margot was born on the same day her uncle died, and that friend remembers paying a condolence visit, as a small child, to Margot's aunt. [1]

Margot adored her brilliant and focused father, Julius Lucoff, an engineer by trade. I remember him as a somewhat austere man, who swept into a room like a crisp autumn breeze: quickly, silently, but commanding attention. The only time I saw him sitting in one place was at the dinner table, or at the piano, playing. As city engineer in 1958, he published a government map of Emeryville, California (OCLC: 23250224). Julius died in 1986, at age 75. [2]

Margot's mother, Zelma, was a kind and concerned woman, anxious to see Margot and her brother, Bill, do well. Sometimes, Zelma used my presence at their dining table to impress certain desired attributes upon her daughter, much to my chagrin. "Margot, sit up straight. See how Chery doesn't let her hair hang on her plate." Margot would grumble a bit and snap back in a congenial tone, "Oh, Ma!"

Zelma Lucoff passed away in 1991, five years after the death of her husband. As a mother, she had worked hard to introduce Margot to all the beauty, knowledge, and opportunity the world had to offer. I remember going along on a trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science, and afterwards, walking the UC Berkeley campus, where Margot later attended, and the herb garden nearby. One day, Margot and I were driven out to the beach in Alameda where we walked barefoot in the salty, mirky tide, and gingerly stepped over knobby and rubbery sea snails embedded in the bay floor. On the way home, we ate string cheese--it was my first taste. [3]

Margot's friendship was precious to me because of her open, candid spirit. Being with her was refreshing, and she always offered up the unexpected; she was full of new ideas. It was she who introduced me to the mysterious worlds of philosophy, other religions, astrology, incense, sealing wax (for envelopes), and even Simon and Garfunkle, among a hundred other things. On her bedroom ceiling, she had taped artistic posters of individual signs of the zodiac so that she "could see them while laying in bed."

During the holiday season, she gave unexpected gifts that I treasure to this day. At a time when I was used to receiving things like Avon cologne, jewelry, or stationery from family or friends, she gave me a map of the moon's surface and a glass prism. Margot provided tools with which to explore physics, astronomy, space, and history... showing that one could do more than just talk about the wonders of the universe.

Visit the Milwaukee Jewish Historical Website

Julius Lucoff was fascinated with science-fiction and was a member of the Bay Area branch of, I believe, the Science-Fiction Writers of America. Margot asked me to go along with her and her father to the club's private showing of "2001: A Space Odyssey," at a theater on Market Street in San Francisco. The theater was completely packed with people who took science-fiction with some degree of seriousness. Among the audience were local engineers, scientists, teachers, and writers, including author Poul Anderson, who would later serve as club president. Previewing "2001" was an exciting event to the science-fiction community, because it was the first film in many years to deal with space exploration in a sophisticated and intelligent manner, without the typical monster-of-the-day or tongue-in-cheek campiness.

I was also taken along to several science-fiction conventions. Oh, lucky me! At the Claremont Hotel in Oakland, I met Gene Roddenberry, the producer of Star Trek, and marveled for the first time at the art of science-fiction illustration. At another event held in S.F., Margot and I dashed from lecture to lecture, disrupting things to find seats in the crowded rooms, and then leaving each after only 5-10 minutes. She was always so excited to experience a piece of everything that it was hard to keep her in one spot for very long.

I owe my friend, Margot, a great deal of gratitude for expanding my horizons at at time of my life when lasting impressions were made: not just because of those special excursions I would never have gone on otherwise, but, for long coversations on topics that weren't really of interest to the average 13-year-old. She opened my eyes to the world at large: to science and art. She showed me how to explore new topics, new music, new ideas. She introduced me to Jewish family life and beliefs, and helped me realize similarities across cultures and religions, and not just differences.

Most of all, Margot was an example of what courage was in the face of a potentially devastating disease, and showed that a brave heart and passionate mind can conquer any limitation.

(To be continued in Part III)

Note: This tribute is based upon personal memories and conversations with Margot. If her family or friends should find any errors or inconsistencies with what they know to be true, please notify me at ckinnick@gmail.com, and I will be happy to make corrections.


[1] Bernbaum, Diane, e-mail to Chery Kinnick, Dec. 28, 2007.
[2] Lucoff, Julius. Social Security Death Index.
[3] Lucoff, Zelma. Social Security Death Index.


  1. Amazing story so far and I can't wait for Part III. I was trying to hold off on commenting until then but just can't.

    Besides all the Bay Area references (where I lived for almost 20 years), I am going through a similar situation with a friend who was killed on December 23rd. While he wasn't technically "family," he was part of the family we often create through a network of friends who are just as loved. I just hope I can tell his story as eloquently as you are doing now.

  2. Hi Thomas,

    Thank you for your comment. I am trying to track down some of Margot's letters before I can write Part III, so it may be late in coming, but I will finish, somehow.

    I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. It is an opportunity, as family history bloggers, to remember those close to us the same way we want to be remembered by family and friends. After all, each of us has become who we are through endless interactions with others.