Blog Posts

Remembering Molly

Jul 18, 2016 | Peter Nelson
Molly Macauley

A Space for Sharing Memories and Tributes from Molly Macauley's Many Friends and Colleagues

The full extent of what we have lost with Molly Macauley’s tragic and inexplicable passing is incalculable. For all of us at RFF, she was a leader, a mentor, an admired colleague, and a treasured friend. She touched many lives and all for the better. We have received hundreds of tributes, remembrances, and condolences from those who had the fortune to know her. They are a great comfort to us and on behalf of everyone at RFF, we offer our profound thanks. We have created this page as a place for anyone who would like to share their memories of Molly.

Those interested in making donations in Molly’s honor are asked to send them to BARCS, 301 Stockholm Street, Baltimore, MD, 21230 or Maryland SPCA, 3300 Falls Road, Baltimore, MD 21211.

Here are some tributes and obituaries for Molly:

Congressional Record: Senator Barbara A. Mikulski on Remembering Dr. Molly Macauley

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: Proclamation in Honor of the Work and Achievements of Dr. Molly K. Macauley

Baltimore Sun: Molly Macauley, Vice President of an Environmental Think Thank, Dies

Living on the Real World: Molly Macauley

Space Policy: Tribute to Dr. Molly Macauley

The Wall Street Journal: Molly Macauley Explored the Final Frontier for Economics: Space

The Washington Post: Molly K. Macauley, Researcher on Economics and Space Science, Dies at 59

Send Us Your Tribute or Memory of Molly

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  Submit Your Tribute or Memory

Tributes to Molly Macauley

"I am so sorry that I just now (December) heard from Tim Brennan of Molly's death. I worked with Molly as one of the founding members of the NASA Applied Sciences Advisory Group (now Committee). I found Molly to be one of the most thoughtful, insightful and kind people I have ever worked with. She had the ability to punch through to the heart of issues that we were facing in providing external advice to NASA and the breadth of her knowledge amazed all of us. Her passing is a terrible loss to our community and brings me great sorrow. I was pleased to see that her vision for VALUABLES has been translated into a new NASA socioeconomic center. It has never been more urgent that the societal value of NASA Earth Science research is clearly stated. I wish her colleagues success in carrying forth her mission in life."

Submitted by Ray Hoff, Colleague and co-member of the NASA Applied Sciences Advisory Panel

"I interned for Molly in 1995 and kept in touch through RFF over the years. Molly exuded a confidence, grace, and intelligence that made me want to become a better economist. She was an inspiring mentor not just with her intellectual contributions but for how she interacted with others personally and professionally. Over the years, I would run into Molly at a conference or a seminar and she was always so kind, asking how I was doing, laughing over some little joke. I'll miss her."

Submitted by Anne Wolverton, Molly's Summer Intern

"It's been almost five months since Molly died. I continue to spend most weekdays sitting next to an office that still has Molly's name on the nameplate, and every once in a while it feels like she still might come back. She won't, of course--and I'm reminded of this on days like today, when I find myself wanting some good advice and realizing that Molly would have been the perfect person to dispense it. I'm sorry I didn't ask for more advice from Molly when I had the chance. I'm also struck again today by how rich and meaningful the tributes to Molly are, on this page and elsewhere. I don't know that Molly necessarily internalized how much of an impact she was having; I'm not sure any of us really do. If there's one thing I continue to think about regularly, five months after Molly's death, it's that: how that threads that connect us to others are so much tighter than we know, even if we can't always see them."

Submitted by Kristin Hayes, Colleague/RFF-Next-Door-Neighbor

"[Karen Palmer read this statement from Tim at an RFF gathering the morning of July 11.] All, I apologize for not being there. I have to be on a net neutrality panel at noon, and I'm afraid the facade I'll have to maintain is too fragile. On top of that, the person who, before I gave any talk, would tell me, usually without a scintilla of evidence, that ‘you'll be great’ isn't here to do so. At occasions brought by a passing, usually of a dog, sometimes a parent, Molly and I would talk about it. Once driving up Rock Creek Parkway as I recall, the idea came to me that if one thinks like a physicist, one sees that moments last forever in the continuum, and in our memories. I'm not sure that did a lot for us back then and it doesn't do a lot now for memories and possibilities that were supposed to have been there, but all that goodness does last forever. Just remember it. We've all heard from a lot of friends and the word I keep hearing is grace, unparalleled. One thing maybe to perpetuate that grace especially when mired in a cosmically trivial annoyance is to ask what would Molly do and then do it—actually pretty good advice any time maybe with one exception -I and probably others spent more time than we could remember telling her to take a break. Go somewhere. Leave the laptop and tablet at home and don't answer texts or emails including from me. I tried so hard to convince her that she was number one and deserved the same time, attention and care that she gave to everyone else. I don't think I ever really succeeded. Maybe someday I would have. So don't forget every so often to just let it go."

Submitted by Tim Brennan, Colleague

"I’ll always remember and admire Molly’s intellectual curiosity and open-minded generosity. Her wide range of issues—from hazardous waste buried in the ground, to satellites in orbit, to her most recent foray into neuroeconomics—reflect that curiosity, along with the courage it takes to embark on novel research agendas. I can’t imagine RFF or the world of environmental economics without her."

Submitted by Arik Levinson, Fellow Economist

"Molly’s sparkle and liveliness defined vivacious. It seems impossible to imagine that she is gone. But her contributions to Resources to the Future and to a wide range of policy debates will live on."

Submitted by Dan Esty, RFF Board Member

"Molly enriched us all with her insight, her dedication, her rigor and her discipline. She was as dedicated to the organization's mission—and to bringing out the best in it—as anyone could possibly be. I will most miss the gentle, quiet earnestness that she brought to every conversation, the simplicity and kindness with which she approached things. She was a treasure; the memory of her is itself some comfort for the enormous loss."

Submitted by Ruben Kraiem, RFF Board Member

"There is a Lord of the Rings quote along the lines of do not confuse kindness with blindness, and no one epitomized this for me like Molly. She was a profound thinker and genuinely kind person who combined a razor-sharp intellect with boundless compassion in a way that did not seem possible for one person. She knew when to cut through a meeting with concise analysis and when to offer praise, and her tireless support of everyone around her was matched only by her passion for new ideas and thinking. She believed in the people around her and the mission of RFF, and put in ridiculous hours to show it. I learned so much during my time working with her, and am deeply saddened and in disbelief that she can no longer share musings on space economics and life from her corner of the 5th floor."

Submitted by Katrina McLaughlin, colleague

"I cannot claim to have known Molly well, but I can say that I have never met someone who was so consistently kind, thoughtful, and considerate."

Submitted by John Tilton, colleague

"During my time as a research assistant at RFF, I only had the privilege of working with Molly for a few months. However, during that brief time I grew as a researcher by leaps and bounds, simply by watching Molly in action. She always listened before speaking. She had an uncanny ability to strike the right tone when voicing disagreement. Her talent for cutting the fat and isolating the essential relevant information was unparalleled. I marveled at the way she ran our weekly meetings, where after listening to disjointed project updates from everyone in the room, she would calmly, brilliantly synthesize where the project stood and what still needed to be done.

Molly's interpersonal skills were a wonder to behold, and she worked hard to foster a nurturing environment for this aspiring researcher. As a lowly research assistant, I always had an equal seat at Molly's table. She actively encouraged me to engage intellectually in our project. When she sensed that I was frustrated, she bought me a Neodymium-themed coffee mug as a gift. When I worked December 28-30 to help assemble a January 1 deliverable, she rewarded me with coauthorship and hand-wrote me a thank you note. My other RFF mentors were equally generous and supportive, but Molly had a knack for giving me encouragement that I didn't know I needed until it arrived.

I've struggled to articulate my profound sadness from Molly's passing, because she influenced me so deeply, in mostly intangible ways. She taught me by example. She gave me well calibrated nudges of encouragement. Molly's leadership and sheer force of personality helped to shape the warm, inclusive culture at RFF—a culture that allowed me to develop the confidence to trust my economic intuition, to ask questions when I didn't understand, and to exchange ideas with others. She continues to influence me through her outsized influence on others throughout the RFF tribe, as we seek each other out to grieve for the colleague, mentor, and friend we've collectively lost."

Submitted by Louis Preonas, colleague

"In a world relentlessly on the move, Molly was a stayer. Christian Science, space, Baltimore, RFF—she made her choices, stayed with them and grew in place. A born striver, she added on and did not leave behind, growing a garden of life-time commitments as she went. People speak an easy fiction in Washington: they say 'The Congress did this' or 'The Court did that.' But institutions don’t do things. People do things. Molly was the kind of person who makes institutions succeed. There are not enough of them, and a very special one is now missing, and missed."

Submitted by Heather Ross, colleague

"I was Molly’s dissertation advisor way back in the 1980s. But the truth is there wasn’t very much advising for me to do. She wrote a chapter. I said, 'That’s wonderful; write another.' So she wrote another and I said it again. And again. I wanted it to go on forever. But eventually I had to let her go. But I didn’t let her go before she became our go-to dog-sitter when we went on vacations, or before she became a dear family friend. Despite her truly stellar scholarly research output, there is one skill that many (most?) research scholars develop early on: the art of self-importance. Our friend and colleague Molly Macauley never mastered that skill. I think more than anything else, that is why we are shedding so many tears now."

Submitted by Bruce Hamilton, Dissertation advisor, colleague, friend

"I had the pleasure of working with Molly on many study committees at The National Academies, and she always made the experience such a joy. She was a great conciliator, bridging different perspectives and synthesizing a middle ground. She was also an absolute joy to be around and became a steadfast friend and mentor. It was total serendipity that after leaving a career in aerospace, our paths crossed again and we were able to work together to put on an event last month at RFF, and had plans to follow up the topic (on contingent valuation of environmental goods) with more research.

Molly's intellectual curiosity was infectious, and her stamina—crisscrossing the country from meeting to meeting—admirable. She never seemed tired. She never complained. She always had a smile on her face. Her speech was soft but strong, always conveying calm confidence but never arrogance. In spite of the tragic and untimely circumstances of her death, she unequivocally made the world a better place. Her presence will be missed, as will the potential she still had to make a difference for decades to come."

Submitted by Lewis Groswald, Colleague

"Molly was one of the most inspirational and influential people I know on the intersection of science and policy. She was a pillar in the formation of the NASA Carbon Monitoring System, a colleague, and friend. I will never forget an informal conversation we once had on the link between carbon monitoring climate change. I recall she said, 'If CO2 was not both odorless and colorless, we would have solved the climate change problem a long time ago.' RIP Molly. The work you've help advance and inspire will go on."

Submitted by George Hurtt, Friend and Colleague

"Molly was many things—brilliant economist, mentor and friend to many, and deeply thoughtful contributor to the public good. She always expanded a conversation with clarity and insights. She warmly recognized the contributions of others. She sought to advance civilized discourse on complex topics. She was inventive. But above all, I want to remember Molly for her kindness and her genuine smiles that permeated her greetings and interactions. She hoped for a world of peace and progress to benefit everyone. I will miss her immensely."

Submitted by Lynn Scarlett, Former Colleague at RFF, Colleague at NOAA's Science Advisory Board, and friend

"I sadly didn't get a chance to know Molly in person as well as I would have liked—I got to know her better as a voice on the phone—but in every single encounter, in person or on the phone, she was full of enthusiasm and warmth. The world needs more people like her in it."

Submitted by Bob Kopp, Colleague

"It’s not often you meet someone from an entirely different discipline who opens the door and says, 'Join us, you are welcome here.' That person in my life was Molly. When we met, I knew very little about either space or economics. Molly invited me to be a part of her world, to collaborate on proposals, share ideas, and to deliver a keynote at the 50th Anniversary lecture series for Resources for the Future. She danced at my wedding. We all lost someone who was genuinely working to making the world a better place with kindness, curiosity, rigor, and excellence. Molly believed that satellites were for people—all people—to study and protect the earth. She wasn't an environmentalist, she was a humanist. Just a few weeks ago we had spoken and she asked me to change the description on our latest project. 'This isn’t just about helping NASA understand how the planet is changing,' she reminded me. 'It’s about helping you, me, and everybody else understand too. That’s the most important part.' I will never forget that part, Molly. Promise. Thank you for being such a good friend. To all of us."

Submitted by Julia Kumari Drapkin, Friend, Colleague, Mentee

"Had great admiration for her work. Her papers were always interesting and often ground breaking in new fields. A great loss."

Submitted by Ray Purdy

"I remember Molly's spark and spunk, her consummate professionalism, and her curiosity about using the correct words and having the right meaning in her written word. I am stunned that she was taken in such a senseless act of violence."

Submitted by Michele Callaghan, Former Colleague

"Kind, generous, supportive, encouraging, fair, ethical, committed, the epitome of professional. These are some of the words that come to mind when I think of how I knew Molly Macauley, my colleague and my friend for 30 years. From the very beginning, with the choice of her dissertation topic, she came to define a study field in space policy – the economics of space activities. Her scholarship was impeccable, her insights valuable. She was a masterful leader, running meetings and projects with close attention to ensuring that everyone had a say, got credit, and made productive use of their time.

After first getting to know Molly, I remember asking Marcia Smith, 'Is she really as nice as she seems to be?' I was already used to the aggressive, competitive, self-serving habits of so many people I’d encountered in Washington. Marcia laughed and said, 'Yes, she really is that nice.' And of course Marcia was right. I never heard Molly say a harsh word about anybody, and likewise I never heard anybody say a harsh word about her. That’s a notable phenomenon in Washington, D.C.

Over the decades that I knew her, I probably saw Molly only a couple of times a year. But those times were always enriching, enlightening, and fun. As dedicated as she was to her work, Molly did like to laugh. She and I shared an interest in advancing the profile and status of women in the aerospace community, and we both pursued this interest in our daily work and also through Women in Aerospace. At the time of her death, she was chair of WIA’s scholarship committee. I will miss her keen intellect, her laughter, her smile, her sisterhood."

Submitted by Linda Billings, Colleague and Friend

"A Goodbye to Molly Macauley

Dr. Molly Macauley was one of those individuals who made positive changes in our world. She was full of life and love and treated everyone as a friend. She was a brilliant scientist, teacher and advisor. I know this because I was one of the fortunate ones who 'discovered' her when she was a secretary for an attorney at Comsat. As I waited to see the lawyer, we struck up a conversation and I knew after a few words that Molly was special and needed to work in my Department of Satellite Earth Sensing. She was such a quick learner and contributor and while working full time completed her Ph.D. in microeconomics. When we both left Comsat, we kept in close touch. Molly went to work for Resources for the Future (RFF), a Washington, DC think tank.

Molly regularly volunteered to lecture wherever I was teaching whenever I asked her. She was usually a marvelous key speaker, report author or consultant on many space, science and engineering committees. This marvelous woman was a true model for girls/young women who wanted to pursue science or engineering. She was driven to succeed and rose to the rank of Vice President of Research at RFF, as well as becoming a Professor at Johns Hopkins University.

I was especially touched by Molly’s enthusiasm when early on we worked and travelled together. Molly had a particular love for soft yogurt anytime while driving that she spotted a yogurt shop she would cry out-STOP-which I did and we would get a cup of yogurt. Molly loved Lee Lasky, her long time partner, and deeply cared for her dogs that she took running each day or evening. We got a kick out of Molly attending the BARC Ball, an annual formal event for which she would dress and bring the dogs in 'dog tuxes.' Saying goodbye to Molly has been very hard. I miss her so much it hurts."

Submitted by Paul Maughan, Colleague, Mentor, Friend

"Molly touched the people around her in profound ways. She challenged colleagues by example and encouraged us with her words. Often the measure of an event or article was Molly’s reaction to it because making her proud felt so good. She was extremely loyal as a friend and as a leader. I am still understanding and learning lessons from her, and missing her even more."

Submitted by Dallas Burtraw, Colleague

"I admired Molly for her leadership, intellectual curiosity, and dynamism. She embraced new ideas, technology and inter-disciplinary methods. She took a comprehensive approach to Earth observations, helping us to understand the value of civil and commercial remote sensing as well as citizen-based observations.

I loved Molly for the person she was—kind, compassionate, and genuine. Molly was a tireless mentor and advocate of early and mid-career women, including myself. She served on the scholarship committee for Women in Aerospace. She took many young women under her wing, offering wisdom and positive encouragement, and going the extra mile to recommend them for speaking roles at conferences or connecting them to her network. She also went out of her way to help her friends and neighbors, and support local animal shelters.

Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz introduced me to Molly over dinner one evening eight years ago when I first arrived in Washington, D.C. Over the years, we founded a Space Women monthly dinner together, and met often for tea and chocolate. She would text me photos of her two beloved dogs with funny quips. She was an inspiration and one of my dearest friends. I am infinitely grateful to have known her and will miss her dearly. "

Submitted by Dr. Lea Shanley, Close Friend and Research Collaborator

"It is difficult to believe that Molly is gone, perhaps particularly for those of us who are at RFF only periodically. Every one of my numerous interactions with Molly over many years brought home her sincerity, her kindness, her sharp intelligence, and her love and loyalty to RFF! She will be missed tremendously."

Submitted by Robert N. Stavins, Colleague

"I wish I was in the warm cocoon of P street, surrounded by those who love Molly and were loved by her.

All I can do is try to explain why I love Molly. She was our selfless leader who tried so hard to get us to think differently and explore new ideas—I wish I could hold on to just some of her passion for groundbreaking. (And for someone with so much creativity and spunk, how did she carry herself so elegantly and always look so polished?)

I love that she discouraged people from working too much, yet, she was often the one working late into the evening! And there were many other ways she cared about us. She let the women of RFF know of mentoring and mentorship opportunities available and began a lunch with female speakers so that we could 'celebrate us.'

So, I am grateful to have been able to watch Molly in action, but I struggle with being so indebted to her without having thanked her. She changed my life by hiring me at RFF. I arrived feeling like I did not deserve to be there, yet this exemplary woman treated me as an equal and unrelentingly let me know that she thought I would do great things. Her belief in me shaped me, for which I am forever indebted.

I will try to live up to her."

Submitted by Lucija Muehlenbachs, Colleague

"I'll remember Molly as the woman who thought my pet econometrics project was worth an upload as a discussion paper, even though I was just an RA. She thought it was a valuable contribution and that's what she cared about. Molly had a way of asking tough questions, yet leaving you feeling empowered, not frustrated. An intellectual caliber that might have otherwise made her totally intimidating was accompanied by a kindness so palpable that she was as approachable as anyone. My thoughts are with her family and friends, her dogs, and the rest of the RFF family as they struggle to make sense of this tragedy."

Submitted by Len Goff, Colleague

"I share and can not usefully add to the many statements of sorrow, respect, and pain that have already been expressed about Molly. However, based on several conversations about leadership with Molly after she was selected to be Vice President, I am convinced that she would be hoping and expecting that as we go forward sorrowfully, we will strive to perform professionally at the highest possible level both to assist our new President and her successor and because our country’s need for the objective, unbiased, analytical work of RFF has never been greater. By so doing we can honor and respect this extraordinary woman for years to come.."

Submitted by Jan Mares, Colleague

"No words can describe our grief at the loss of Molly Macauley. An enormously capable researcher in her own right, she threw herself into the role of research director, focusing all her energies in bringing out the best of everyone at RFF. She made everyone feel special. There is nothing we wouldn’t do for her. We will re-dedicate ourselves to everything she represented, but for now we’re just trying to cope with this shattering news."

Submitted by Roger Cooke, Colleague