December 22, 2014
Margarita Siafaca—historian, champagne collector, and matriarch to four decades of “Sharpies”—has been an integral part of MIT’s cancer research community since its formal inception. After 40 years in this community, Margarita, Phil Sharp's administrative lab manager, has decided to retire from MIT at the end of December.
Margarita joined the new Center for Cancer Research (CCR) in 1974 to support CCR founder and director Salvador Luria. That same year, Luria recruited a 30-year-old scientist named Phillip Sharp to join the CCR as a founding faculty member. Phil was in need of administrative support, so Margarita began working with him on a part-time basis. Soon after, she moved to the Sharp Lab full time.
In the years since then, she says she has had enough memorable moments to keep the job exciting. She had a front-row seat to Biogen’s founding in 1978, Phil’s Nobel win in 1993, the opening of the KI in 2011, and the latest Stand Up to Cancer telecast this fall. But even more important to her was the front-row seat to seeing so many Sharpies grow as scientists, and as people, before her eyes.
“Margarita has been a highly valued colleague and friend over the last 40 years,” says Phil. “At every step she has helped students, fellows, and staff with their problems and made us part of her lab family. We will miss her and wish her the very best.”
“For the past 40 years, Margarita has represented the very best of MIT. She has been a friend and mentor to countless Sharpies, offering guidance, support, and a friendly face to anyone walking through her door,” says Mary Lindstrom, Phil’s lab manager. “She has welcomed people as they joined the lab, guided them through the many challenges faced by young scientists, and ensured that they never really left the lab but instead became part of an extended family stretching around the world.”
“Life in the Koch Institute will go on once Margarita retires, but, honestly, it will feel different,” says KI Director Tyler Jacks. “I can’t count the number of times that I have popped in to seek advice and counsel from Margarita over the years, and every time she has greeted me with that warm smile and has set me on the right path. Margarita has been a constant here for a very long time, and she will be sorely missed.”
While Margarita agrees that life will go on after she leaves the KI, she looks forward to volunteer work and finally having the time to catch up on reading. And, despite her admitted disdain for life advice dispensed by so-called “talking heads,” she does have one tidbit to share with the KI community: “Be kind to everybody.”
Without a doubt, Margarita’s own kindness to all those who crossed paths with her over the years has reflected back on her immeasurably. “How could I have been so blessed that I found this place?” she muses. “It really became home.”