A. Margaret Bok, 98, a stalwart matriarch of the Curtis Institute of Music and one of its major links to the family that founded the elite music conservatory on Rittenhouse Square, died Saturday, Oct. 27, at her home in Rockport, Maine, family members said.
Though mostly a behind-the-scenes presence at the school, Mrs. Bok, known as "Stormy," stepped into leadership positions at Curtis at critical times. She was chair of the board from 1977 to 1988 and temporarily moved into the director's office during a period in the mid-1980s after the ouster of director John de Lancie, when administrative turmoil at the school grew severe enough to draw an investigation from the state attorney general.
She is best remembered, though, for her many decades as a loyal supporter of the small school started by her mother-in-law, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, in 1924. She was keenly aware of history and legacy, but was also quick to embrace change. It was during her most active period at Curtis that it shifted from being an inward-looking institution that relied on its own endowments and only selectively opened concerts to the public to one that routinely sends its students — and fund-raisers — to concert halls around the world.
She very much enjoyed talking about the future of the school, said Curtis president and CEO Roberto Díaz — "not just the nuts and bolts, but the inspirational, more forward look at the role of the school in the art form and how that informed the experience students had at Curtis."
"She was always a quiet source of leadership, but you knew where she stood," said Bayard R. Fiechter, president of the Mary Louise Curtis Bok Foundation, which benefits Curtis, "and I think she perpetuated the legacy of the Bok family tremendously."
Born in Braintree, Mass., Agnes Margaret Storm attended the University of Connecticut. She and her first husband, Calvin Curtis, were lighthouse keepers on Eagle Island in Maine's Penobscot Bay for four years, and at the end of their stay there, he wanted to move to Florida. She didn't, and chose to remain in Maine. A registered nurse, she met Cary William Bok, grandson of the founder of the Curtis Publishing Co., while he was in the hospital. They married in 1961 and had one daughter, Mary Louise, who lived only one day. Cary Bok died in 1970.
A striking woman with a warm mien, Mrs. Bok swam every day she was able, gardened, sang in her church choir, edited a collection of World War I writings by her father, supported numerous charitable causes in Maine and elsewhere, and in recent years tended to her two Corgis, Mr. Lincoln and Natalie.
She joined the board of the Curtis Institute in 1962, and her involvement grew — as trustee, member of the board of overseers, honorary trustee, and a member of the Mary Louise Curtis Bok board. Curtis awarded her an honorary degree in 1983.
She oversaw a particularly rocky period when, in 1985, she and some members of the board forced de Lancie's resignation, splitting loyalties among Curtis faculty members, alumni, and other supporters. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office investigated, and while it agreed that "the wisdom of some of the board's actions may be open to debate," it found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Mrs. Bok maintained that she had done what was best for the school.
She was a major donor to Curtis, endowing the A. Margaret Bok Chair in Double Bass Studies as well as the Mrs. Cary William Bok Fellowship.
"I think she was mindful of the fact that the organization came from the Bok family, and she was a conduit of that spirit," said Fiechter.
"It wasn't a superficial engagement, it was deep," said Díaz of Mrs. Bok's relationship with Curtis. "It was one of the really big things in her life."
Survivors include stepson Gordon Dennis Bok; three grandchildren; and nieces and nephews.