Peg Knowles, 92, Was Artist, Traveler, Friend

Margaret Ogden Rankin Knowles, 92, died in her sleep at her home in Edgartown on April 12, after a day during which she voted, drove to the library and the post office, talked with friends and worked on a paper about medieval tapestries. When she spoke on the phone with a daughter that week, she sounded happier than she had ever been.

Peg was born March 13, 1910 in Newark, N.J. She first came to Martha's Vineyard in 1917, at a time when girls over 12 were obligated to wear black stockings to swim. As a child she played kick the can on Tower Hill and rowed over to the bathing beach at Chappaquidick. During college she and her friends rented rooms near where they sneaked past Emily Post's house with bakery goods hidden on their persons, against Mrs. Post's dictum that "Ladies do not carry packages." One of Peg's first jobs was as a shepherdess on Pease's Point Way; she diverted sheep from that well-trafficked road to South Beach.

Brought up by an attorney father and aristocratic socialite mother, John and Mary Rankin of South Orange, N.J., Peg was the middle child between brother Langdon and sister Polly. From an early age she was immersed in the arts - concerts, plays, museums and poetry. Her favorite poem was Shakespeare's 29th sonnet. She walked four miles a day to and from school before going on to Smith College and the New York School of Social Work. As a medical social worker during World War II she was posted on a Red Cross hospital ship that sat in Guam harbor on the day the Japanese surrendered.

In 1949, she married Dr. George Milton Knowles, a widower with two children from Hackensack, N.J. Peg and George had two daughters; once, when asked what her favorite job was, she said it was raising her children. She was thrilled to be a wife and mother. Peg served on the board of trustees of the Elisabeth Morrow School in Englewood, N.J., for 25 years and also for a time as the school librarian. There she held an annual book fair and built up the library by inviting each child to donate a book to the school.

In 1963, Peg bought her house in Edgartown and lived there at least part of every year for almost 40 years. She loved sailing, gardening and walking in places like Felix Neck and Squibnocket. She was famous for her beach picnics and for swimming in the rain, often the only one in the water.

Always ready for adventure, Peg traveled to Japan, China, Okinawa, New Zealand, Kenya, Tanzania, the Bahamas, Mexico and extensively throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. She climbed the Grand Teton in 1938 as the only woman in a team with seven men and returned to Wyoming in 1999 to raft the Snake River and to enjoy a reunion with her children and grandchildren.

She took watercolor painting classes from Maine to Florida, and at age 86 she held her first professional art show at the Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown. In that and subsequent annual shows she sold most of her paintings because, as she said with an impish grin, "I'm small and I'm cheap."

In her spare time, Peg played bells in several handbell choirs, volunteered at the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society, helped to develop her family's museum - Cherry Hill, in Albany, N.Y. - planned college reunions, and prepared papers and teas for her beloved Want to Know Club.

Peg is survived by her sister Polly Byrne of Hartford, Conn.; her sister in law, Frances Rankin of Chester, Conn.; her daughters, Maggie Knowles of Missoula, Mont., and Alison Eckels of Seattle, Wash.; her step-children, Jack Knowles of Alexandria, Va., and Elizabeth Jones of Cincinnati, Ohio, and their respective spouses, Tom Eckels, Frances Knowles, and Linn Jones; her grandchildren, Mimi, John, Doug, Ron, Ken, Julia, Lydia and Andrew; her great-grandchildren, Jamie, Emily, John, David, Isabelle, and Teddy, and many other cousins and relatives. She was also cherished and beloved by many many friends throughout her long life.

A memorial service will be held at the Federated Church in Edgartown on Friday, May 17, at 2 p.m., followed by a reception at the church. Donations may be made in her name to the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society and the Sheriff's Meadow.