Oak Lodge pioneering engineer Margaret Pritchard dies
Margaret Ann Prichard, a pioneering engineer from Oak Lodge involved in countless local and national organizations, died peacefully in her sleep July 29 at age 87.
Prichard, known by the nickname "Pritch," was a successful and busy professional engineer who volunteered extensively, although until her death she suffered from the complications of contracting polio as a youth. Prichard lived in Oak Lodge all her life, whenever she wasn't traveling.
After graduating from Milwaukie High School in 1947, Prichard's career in engineering consulting focused on marrying technologies with facilities across industries. Her international career in energy, food and wastewater engineering took her to Canada, Italy, Bermuda, England and all 50 states, enabling Prichard to join the first frequent flier program.
When she discovered how much more male engineers were getting paid, Pritchard applied for scholarships to attend the University of Washington. By the time she began taking engineering classes there, she was old enough to be her fellow students' mother and was the only woman in the classes. To make matters worse, Prichard remembers how all the students had to be identified by their initials (hers was MA). She knew one of her classmate's wives was expecting a baby, so when she walked into the classroom (which was blue with cigar smoke) she recalled saying, "The first one of you guys that calls me grandma is going to have a knuckle sandwich."
Prichard worked as an engineer for PGE starting in 1958. In an oral history with the Society of Women Engineers (she also was an active member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers), she recalls the Columbus Day storm of 1962, which caused unsurpassed damage across the Pacific Northwest:
"I was given a headset, which had a three-way connection. I had our dispatch, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, all with radio control. So if there was a damage situation where there was need for service, we would send one of those agencies in. They would call me and say, 'Yes, there's a patient here that has to be evacuated.' Or, 'No, this is somebody's nightmare. They just want their power back on because they're brooding chickens.' OK, I had to make that call with our dispatcher, and he would determine then if it was an emergency — a post-operative patient, etc. They'd go out and see what the situation was, if they could get bootleg service in, or if they had to move the patient. I spent 36 hours straight working that storm."
In 2006, Prichard moved into the assisted-living facility at Rose Villa in Oak Grove. After retirement and in her 80s, she joked, "I haven't learned how to say no yet" to extensive volunteer activities.
Last year, Prichard received a standing ovation and a commendation from Rose Villa management for nine years of managing the retirement center's Green Committee. She estimated that she cut $90,000 off the annual Rose Villa water bill the first year they started charting water use, because what had been considered "springs" actually were leaks on the 22-acre property.
Prichard served on Rose Villa's executive council and was a voting member of the Oak Grove Community Council. She was the treasurer of the Welsh Society (her father's heritage) and a board member for the Sons and Daughters of Oregon Pioneers. She also was on the Oak Lodge Sanitary District Advisory Committee, a 15-member group that helped develop master plans for the sewer district, where she recused herself from a key vote because she had invented a technology that the district ended up adopting for its new sewage plant.
Prichard's great-great-grandfather did not quite make the trip across the Oregon Trail in a wagon, dying of mountain fever. As a result of his being buried on the east slope of Mount Hood, his five children came on through to Philomath and each took donation land claims of 640 acres, but his widow, Barbara, was only given 160 acres. The family continued to live in the Corvallis area, where Prichard's mother was born.
Pritchard was born on Pill Hill in Portland in Sept. 18, 1929, right before the stock-market crash. The four different homes she lived in during her life can all be found within a two-and-a-half-mile radius in the Oak Grove area. Pritchard spent most of her adult life as the main breadwinner, taking care of her brother Robert, who had Down syndrome, with the help of her mother — one of the earliest female bankers in Oregon — who retired early after having her eldest brother, David.
Prichard lived with her mother for 50 years in a house on Concord Road, until her mother's death at 95 in 1992. Prior to the house on Concord, Prichard lived in a house on Oak Grove's Laurie Avenue and first lived in Jennings Lodge on Hull Avenue.
A celebration of life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27, in the Rose Villa Performing Arts Center. In lieu of flowers, the family has designated the Rose Villa Foundation and the Society of Women Engineers Scholarship Fund for remembrances.