When Pam Cahill moved to Woolwich in 1977, a neighbor came to greet her.
“She was in full winter coveralls, with gum rubber boots ... She shook my hand and said, ‘My name’s Margaret Gardiner, but you can call me Peggy.’”
Forty years later, Woolwich gave Gardiner, author, Morgan horse breeder and daughter of Maine governor William Gardiner, its Boston Post Cane as the town’s oldest resident. She died Feb. 13 at 98, in her sleep at home on the farm, “surrounded by the horses that were her life,” barn manager Katie Chandler said. “It’s very strange to be here without her, but we couldn’t have asked for a better ending for her. She just devoted her life to the Morgan horse (breed).” Her late stallion Kennebec Count has been a Breyer model horse.
According to interviews Friday, Gardiner lived the life she wanted, spoke her mind and set that example for generations of Midcoast girls and women, at least four who have served as Maine lawmakers.
The Tenderfoot 4-H club Gardiner started and led had two eventual Maine senators in it, Mary Small and Marge Kilkelly, Small noted. Small was 15 when she started taking riding lessons at the farm 50 years ago. She worked at the barn, too, learned to drive standard and learned from Gardiner’s wisdom “not just about horses, but about life, because she had that great, dry sense of humor ... that still brings a smile to my face. So she had an incredible impact.”
Out to dinner once with a group, when the food was about to come, “Peggy said, in that higher voice of hers, ‘And now comes the moment where everyone looks around to make sure nobody ordered something better than they have.’ And to this day, I can’t be in a restaurant and not think that,” Small told Wiscasset Newspaper.
Cahill and her family called Gardiner what Cahill, a Maine House and Senate member in the 1980s and 1990s, said many at Gardiner’s Kennebec Morgan Farm on Phipps Point Road and elsewhere called her: Miss G. Every spring, Gardiner invited Cahill’s family to see the newborn foals. And once when Cahill came to pick her up for a political fundraiser Gardiner had two tickets for in Portland, Gardiner had on a new outfit and a necklace of chestnuts.
“She talked in that Julia Child voice, which was always so comical ... She said ‘How do I look?’ And she did a pirouette in the middle of the kitchen. And she says ‘I look so good I had to wear these homemade beads ... because if you look too good, all they do is ask you for money.’”
Small said Gardiner had a keen mind and spoke it. A teenaged Small didn’t quite grasp that way of being, but later saw it as a rule to live by. “I really took that to heart.”
Gardiner was a local institution, a force, Maine Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich, said. Hepler recalled being impressed at learning Gardiner was in the Army Corps of Women during World War II, serving in the chemical warfare service. “This was in the 1940s and she was doing this. I remember thinking, ‘What a great role model,’ (because) back then it would have been quite unusual for a woman.”
Presenting Gardiner with Woolwich Historical Society’s distinguished service award in 2013, Debbie Locke noted Gardiner helped the group by sharing historical information and donating auction items. Locke gave Wiscasset Newspaper her speech from that night. In it, Locke stated in part: “She is a staunch believer in the importance of voting – and does so, in person, at every election. Her work ethic and role model are a wonderful example of what it means to be a productive citizen.”
The farm remains in Gardiner’s family and continues boarding horses, Chandler said.
Cahill began to cry at noting Kennebec Joy, a horse she bought from Gardiner 10 years ago, died about about six weeks before Gardiner. “I was never particularly a horsey person, and through (Gardiner) I got the love of these wonderful Morgan horses that she’s so famous for and I will be forever thankful for that.” Cahill still has another horse she bought from Gardiner, Kennebec Enchantress.
“Happy memories, all happy memories of Margaret. She did exactly what she wanted with her life. And I don’t know if all of us can say that.”