California Forum

Margaret A. Bengs, 1948-2015

Margaret A. Bengs, who contributed to these pages for many years, had that rare ability to remain civil while taking on the most divisive social issues of our day.

Bengs died last week, four days before her 67th birthday, of injuries she suffered when she was hit by a pickup truck while bicycling on Fair Oaks Boulevard near her Carmichael home. Peggy to her friends, Bengs was a speechwriter for Gov. George Deukemejian and Dan Lungren, and wrote a column for The Sacramento Bee, focusing on social issues, from 2008 until 2013.

Devoutly Catholic, she opposed same-sex marriage, abortion, and government intrusion into her notion of religious freedom. She disliked what she saw as sin, but not the sinner, and didn’t disparage those with whom she disagreed.

Her most compelling pieces were personal. In 2010, after the death of her husband, Frank McReynolds, she wrote: “As I walked through this bleakest tunnel of my life, the glow of the human spirit shone like stars that are most radiant in the blackest of nights. …

“I became aware of details I would never have noticed or appreciated before – the little things – nurses offering a smile, a bit of humor, encouragement; priests and chaplains visiting with words of comfort and inspiration; a doctor taking extra time to listen and explain; a cup of coffee suddenly appearing from a nurse’s assistant; daily phone calls from friends and family checking up and offering help.”

Children were a passion. In 2009, she wrote: “My venture in growing up inside began as a volunteer at Sutter Memorial Hospital more than 20 years ago. I had reached a dark place in my life and was told to do something for someone else, expecting nothing in return. A nurse led me into a room where a blind baby boy, about 3 months old, lay in a crib.

“The right side of his face was caved in. His eyes rolled up in his head. I think he was a drug baby. The nurse said, ‘Could you rock this baby? His parents never come to see him.’ ...

“I began to rock the baby. He was lethargic and unresponsive. Then I began to sing to him, a bright, lilting song I remembered from childhood. When I hit the high note, suddenly he smiled.”

On New Year’s Day, 2011, she wrote about bicycling in the rain through Ancil Hoffman Park on the American River: “I found that I could view the rising river as a hazard about to overflow its banks, or as water rushing downstream, carrying off the dead leaves to make room for new growth.”

She concluded: “When the difficulties arise, I know there is a lesson that can cause me to let go of old notions of happiness and expand my perspective about what is truly important in life. I have learned that life’s great adventure lies not in changing what is around me, but in changing my attitude.”

Whether or not you agreed with her politics, many of Peggy Bengs’ words were worth taking to heart.