Margaret “Peggy” Bevington, a longtime teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools nursery, mother of four and avid lover of literature and language, died on Sept. 5 at home hospice in Hyde Park after a period of ill health. She was 87.
She was born Margaret Bronson Brown on Jan. 11, 1933, in Cleveland. Her parents, John and Helen Brown, were an attorney and a biochemist who focused on heart disease, respectively. She had an older sister, Susan Girardeau, who survives her.
Bevington attended Cleveland Heights High School. She acted in plays and, in her senior year, won first prize in a science competition, which delighted her mother. She left Northeast Ohio to attend Radcliffe College, the former women's liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1954.
The next year, she earned a master's degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She met her husband, David Bevington — who went on to become one of the all-time great Shakespearean scholars and a U. of C. professor — at an undergraduate orchestra rehearsal; they noticed each other for the first time when the musician who usually sat between them was absent. They eloped in 1953 and were married 66 years until David's death in August 2019.
"What I think she may have regretted on some level was never finishing her doctorate," said her daughter, Sarah Bevington, in an interview. "My dad was a well-known scholar, but my mother, in a certain way, was more scholarly. She was just a reading machine. She was constantly reading, researching and writing things."
Bevington was a Navy wife early in her marriage and taught second grade in Newport, Rhode Island, while David was stationed there. She taught various grade levels during his postgraduate studies until he took his first teaching job in 1961 at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Three of their four children, Stephen, Katherine and Philip, were born there. Sarah was born in 1970, three years after the family moved to Hyde Park, where David had accepted a job at the U. of C.
Bevington lived and threw parties for 52 years in a red brick home on South Blackstone Avenue. In 1973 after all her children had started school, she began teaching at Lab's Nursery School, a job she held for 30 years, eventually becoming head teacher.
Bevington liked three- and four-year-olds' sense of wonder. Sarah said she kept a list of her young students' "quotable quotes," from hysterical babble to innocent profundity, which she would send out to parents over the course of the year. "She just had a wonderful wit herself," Sarah remembered. "She had wonderful ways of talking and seeing things. She had ways of making ordinary seem fun through her use of language."
The death of her son Philip from an undiagnosed heart defect in 1977 affected her greatly; Sarah said that it led to her work in the 1980s, after a Lab School student died in a bus accident, to obtain bus monitors for each school bus. She supervised the process herself.
Bevington collaborated with her husband on his academic work, and the two enjoyed Hyde Park's cultural offerings. Research and working sabbaticals took them all over the world. In their retirement, they led U. of C. alumni tours out of the University of Oxford in England, featuring walking tours and discussions on history, music and theater. In 2006, the Bevingtons' $100,000 donation to the U. of C. Press established the Bevington Fund to help young scholars with publishing their first books.
From 2012 until her death, Bevington served on the board of the Theraplay Institute in Evanston, which is dedicated to helping children, parents and caregivers develop attachment through play, part of an academic interest throughout her professional career. She was also a precinct captain for the Independent Voters of Illinois, a bulwark of Hyde Park's independent 20th century political culture, and a member of the local Service League.
Her children Stephen, Kate and Sarah and their spouses, Denise, Davis and Fred, respectively, survive her, as do five grandchildren, Sylvia, Leo, Peter, Zeke and Maggie. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Theraplay Institute or to the Court Theatre.