Margot Adler, a longtime NPR correspondent and former contributor to Pacifica Radio, died July 28 after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 68.
The granddaughter of renowned Viennese psychotherapist Alfred Adler, she began her radio career in the mid-1960s as a volunteer reporter for Pacifica’s KPFA in Berkeley, Calif. Adler then moved to New York and joined Pacifica’s WBAI in 1972, launching and appearing on local talk shows. In 1978 she joined NPR as a freelance reporter covering New York and became full-time the following year.
Appearing on NPR’s Talk of the Nation in June 2013, Adler recalled how TOTN host Neal Conan, a colleague at WBAI, helped her land a job at NPR after they worked together on a Pacifica fundraiser.
“You said, ‘I produce this show, it's called All Things Considered,’” Adler told Conan. “And in 1978, when this took place, I had never heard [of] it. I didn't know who Susan Stamberg was, and I kind of had a very weird attitude about NPR. And you said, ‘Would you like to freelance?’ And the rest is history.”
She went on to report for NPR’s National Desk for more than three decades. Over the course of her career, Adler covered a wide range of issues, including the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath, the death penalty and the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. She also covered children’s literature and conducted the first U.S. radio interview with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, according to NPR. Her stories appeared on All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition.
“Margot was the New York sister I never had,” said Susan Stamberg, longtime NPR host and correspondent, in an email. Stamberg and Adler grew up a few blocks from one another but only met later at NPR. Adler was “intrepid,” Stamberg added. “She was such a talented reporter — so intelligent in her writing, in explaining complicated matters so we could absorb them, finding just the right clip of tape, or sound, to make her reporting real radio.”
Adler was widely respected within the public radio system and played crucial roles in the careers of several public radio veterans.
“I wouldn’t even be at NPR if it hadn’t been for Margot,” said Wade Goodwyn, NPR’s Dallas-based National Desk correspondent. Goodwyn met Adler when he was a 31-year-old political organizer dreaming of reporting for NPR, and she gave him the encouragement he needed to explore the possibility.
From 1999-2008, Adler hosted Justice Talking, a weekly NPR show about the law and American life.
Adler was also a Wiccan priestess and a member of the advisory board for the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. She explained what drew her to paganism in an article for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s WORLD magazine, describing her 1970 discovery of nature writers Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson and others.
“Although I found myself excited and energized by the ecology movement, my response to these writings was not entirely political,” she wrote. “As I read these writers, I was having what I can only describe now as religious feelings. I saw that this literature was about our whole relationship to the universe; it showed that everything was interconnected. It helped me understand my place in the universe in a way I had never understood it before.” She began looking for “an ecological religion” and found paganism.
Adler wrote Drawing Down the Moon, a history of neo-paganism, and the memoir Heretic’s Heart. In March she published Vampires Are Us, a cultural exploration of the modern-day fascination with the undead.
“Margot in many ways exemplified what draws people to NPR," said Margaret Low Smith, NPR's senior v.p. of news, in a statement. "Her reporting was singular and her voice distinct. There was almost no story that Margot couldn't tell. And she loved to find stories that no one else would, including the occasional story about trees in Central Park. Her writing was clear and captivating and she always found humanity in every story she told."
News of Adler's death has prompted hundreds of remembrances from NPR fans on the network's Facebook page.
Adler is survived by her son, Alex Dylan Gliedman-Adler.