The late Magaret-Ann Armour was an institution at the U of A, whose legacy will live through the many students and staff she inspired throughout her life.
Born in Scotland, Armour came to the chemistry department at the U of A in 1979 to get her PhD in physical organic chemistry. Through her time at the U of A, she was the assistant chair of the department of chemistry, the first diversity associate dean of science, and a key founder and former chair of the Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) program. She was best known for her public outreach and getting students interested in the sciences.
Charles Lucy, a chemistry professor and longtime friend of Armour, recalled the unique way she would get grade school children to engage in science.
“She was going to schools everywhere. People comment about her standing on tables so that everybody could see her,” he said. “She loved to do demonstrations and show the kids how much she loved chemistry.”
Fittingly so, Armour had a kindergarten-to-junior-high school named after her. Lucy recalls constantly seeing her walking around with bags full of demo materials. Besides being heavily involved with the children, Armour also made sure teachers kept their students educated about possibilities in STEM.
“She worked a lot with the teachers, not teaching necessarily chemistry, but teaching them the careers of chemistry and science,” Lucy said.
Armour championed the prospect of melding good academic instruction with the sciences. At the time, many professors in chemistry didn’t come from teaching backgrounds and rather saw it as obligatory to their position in the department. Armour made it her mission to help more instructors communicate science effectively by showing them that teaching was also based on evidence.
“[She] built it as a discipline of science and not an afterthought. We’re not trained in teaching, most of us were trained in our research,” Lucy said. “She really started changing teaching from just an activity to a scholarly activity [that is] is evidence-based, which is what science is.”
Armour’s accomplishments may sweep the board, but for Lucy, she’s best remembered as someone you could count on for listening to you with all their attention. His fondest memory of Armour was her voice, not only because of her Scottish wilt but also her ability to use it to support students.
“You know how you [have your] best friend… that’s just there. She was that for thousands of people — she radiated caring and insight,” he said. “She did so much for women in science and she never made a single enemy. She would fight but always in a quiet, respectful and persuasive way.”
Many of the positions Armour held were impressively done after she “retired” due to the university’s past mandatory retirement policy. As she went on to hold many new positions throughout her life, Lucy explained that she was someone who carved out spaces for herself.
“Our chair pointed out that every position she held was created for her,” he said. “There was never anybody there before.”