Margarita McCoy remembered at memorial

By Maria Singh

Friends, family and colleagues gathered together on May 16 to celebrate the life and legacy of Margarita McCoy, a beloved Cal Poly Pomona professor emerita.

The College of Environmental Design hosted a memorial that featured reflections from individuals who worked alongside the late professor and a reception.

Alfred McCoy, son of Margarita McCoy, spoke about his mother at the memorial.

“[My sister and I] always knew our mother was important and in her profession knew she was successful. But your presence here is a testimony to that,” said Alfred McCoy. “My sister and I, we take solace and gratitude. Don’t think your words are wasted because they soothe a great wound.”

Margarita McCoy, who was born in New York City in 1923 to a renowned brewing family, began her work in the planning industry when she was elected a member on the planning board for the small city of Sudbury, Massachusetts.

As a woman who faced and overcame many obstacles in her lifetime, Margarita McCoy proved to be a prominent voice in a male-dominated industry.

David Bess, a former professor and a former chair of CPP’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, remembered Margarita McCoy as someone who truly cared about students’ education.

“She was a very unique person because she had a wide view of the world, been all over the world [and] done everything. But she was very much grounded in local communities,” said Bess. “She came here at a time when environmental design was still evolving and trying to figure out what it was going to be. She had a curious idea about the curriculum. She thought that students should learn something about cities and how they work before they went out and started telling people what they should do about it.”

After finishing graduate school at USC, Margarita McCoy went on to become the first full-time female planning professor and the first female department chair in the planning industry of the United States.

Margarita McCoy was a professor at CPP’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning from 1975 to 1989, and she also served as the department’s chair from 1977 to 1983.

Carol Barrett, the assistant director for community development in Burbank, met Margarita McCoy at a national conference for planners, where they were appointed a task to encourage more female students and faculty to become involved in the urban and regional planning industry.

Barrett described Margarita McCoy as a passionate woman who used her achievements to help others succeed in their careers.

“I would want people in the Cal Poly Pomona community to remember how passionate she was about the mission of this university,” said Barrett. “She had a national platform, and she used that platform to promote the ideals of this university, the importance of there being a place where people can come to school and they can learn professions but that it’s organized and priced at a point that it is much more accessible to a much more broader community.”

According to Barrett, not only was Margarita McCoy passionate about education, she was determined to emphasize the unique characteristics of CPP.

“She wanted the education to be rigorous,” said Barrett. “She wanted the planners to be well trained, but she thought that the world had enough UCLAs and USCs, and she wanted and was so committed to the values that are cored to the way Cal Poly Pomona functions in Southern California.”

Margarita McCoy played a vital role in the growth of urban and regional planning. She was a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.

In addition, the ACSP created a biannual national award to honor her contributions and achievements in the industry and recognize individuals who have also made an impact through their service and dedication.

Richard Willson, a current professor and the current chair of CPP’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, taught with Margarita McCoy for three years and recalled his memories of her.

“She was just a very dear friend, an excellent mentor and pioneering woman planner,” said Willson. “She was brave and competent and a pioneer. She was a very elegant person. I would describe her as a realist. She was very practical about the world and very effective in the world, but she helped you think realistically about what you could get accomplished.”

And though Margarita McCoy left an outstanding lifetime of accomplishments behind, those close to her remember her as a witty and tenacious woman who emphasized the importance of education in all facets of life.

Margarita McCoy remembered

Courtesy of PolyCentric

Margarita McCoy remembered

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