In September 2010, I blogged about a Revolutionary War spy whose descendant, Natalie Nicholson, was one of my early mentors in the MIT Libraries. When I started shelving books in the Humanities Library at MIT, Natalie was the Associate Director of Libraries. The Director’s Office suite shared the second floor of Hayden Library which gave me unprecedented access to power! I actually got to see the Administration!
Natalie took an early interest in me, stopping to ask about my studies at Northeastern University or comment on the full pre-shelving section at the end of term. We worked together for ten years—1965 to 1975—and throughout, Natalie, appointed Director in 1972, kept an eye on me. As a young librarian, she looked for opportunities for me to learn and grow. She asked me to chair my first task force—converting the MIT union catalog to microfiche. It turned into a learning experience for me with lessons in diplomacy, persistence, the power of data, marketing, return on investment, strategizing, space planning, communication, quality control, and the role of humor in defusing tense confrontations. Natalie was a great teacher and in my regular meetings with her, she offered encouragement and perspective, but never prescription. She always turned my questions into “What do you think?”
As I made each transition in my career, I would call Natalie and let her know where I was headed. Those calls were always followed with letters of congratulations and encouragement—and memories of those early days at MIT. When I visited her in 2010 with the facsimiles from the records of the National Archives, she was the same Natalie that I remembered from 1965, sharp, elegant, curious, and kind.
Natalie died on Monday at the age of 104.
If you’ve had a Natalie in your life, say thanks. And give thanks.