Upon meeting Dr. Margery Nicolson, what stands out is her clear love of nature and wildlife. Her enthusiasm for protecting our planet’s wild spaces takes priority in our conversation.
Margery and her late husband, Iain, a native of Scotland, joined the movement to stabilize human population after reading Paul Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb. Married for close to 40 years, she and Iain reveled in nature, backpacking, and exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains stretching across Central and Eastern California. “We enjoyed everything that the Sierras had to offer—birds, big trees, plant life, flowers, and serenity,” she says, “and we realized how important it was that this land be protected.” Much of the Sierra Nevada was still unprotected during this time, so she and Iain became avid advocates to defend the land against development. “I’m proud to say, with the involvement of many environmental groups, we did it!” she recalls.
Growing up in Pasadena, California, Margery remembers playing in her family’s large backyard and developing summer outdoor projects with friends and family. Her love for nature was further fostered by spending summers at her grandparents’ home in Carmel, California, where she learned to garden and hike. “I spent just about every waking minute outdoors,” she remarks. “The Monterey Peninsula was the stimulus for my love of nature.”
Margery may have loved the outdoors, but she also loved academics, and she pursued her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biological Sciences at Stanford University. When her PhD advisor moved to Baylor Medical School in Houston, Texas, she followed him there. She received her PhD in Biochemistry in 1960.
She recalls, “I was a minority in the field, since there were very few female scientists in the U.S. in those days.” After teaching at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, lecturing and conducting research, she was recruited by Amgen, a global biotechnology firm, as one of its first 30 scientists. “I loved research, so I went!”
During her time at Amgen, she worked with a team of scientists to develop a compound called erythropoietin (EPO), a type of synthetic hormone used to treat patients with kidney disease, “filling a niche need in medicine,” she says. She remembers “working hard and playing hard” with her colleagues. She retired after 18 years, when Amgen’s ranks had ballooned to more than 16,000 people.
Since retiring, Margery has dedicated more of her time to traveling the world and advocating for the causes most near and dear to her. She has been a leading advocate for wildlife—especially birds, and, in particular, the Sandhill Crane. “The Iain Nicolson Center at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary—named after my husband—opened in 2004 in Nebraska. It’s a very simple, beautiful structure on the Platte River. During the month of March, the Sandhill Cranes fly through on their migration north in large numbers, sometimes 200,000 at a time. They spend three to four weeks fattening up on leftover corn found in the fields surrounding the center so that they can complete their six-week journey up to the Arctic, where they nest. It’s a really spectacular sight, and every year I spend two to four weeks acting as a volunteer guide for the 18,000 visitors who come to see the cranes. It’s a March highlight for me!”
She’s pragmatic in her outlook on population, saying, “We need to figure out a better way to stabilize population. Education must be the basis. Without education and awareness around the issue of population growth, nothing will happen and habitats will continue to be reduced.”
With her generous support of Population Connection, Margery is investing her own pioneering spirit in the next generation of population advocates. We applaud her commitment to the preservation of nature and her dedication to raising awareness about the impact of population growth on our environment. Thank you, Margery, for serving as an inspiration to us all!
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