Of all the reasons to train for a marathon, could any be better than a father’s love?
Georgette Baghdady, N03, had never been much of a runner, but when she heard about the Tufts President’s Marathon Challenge fundraising effort and the fulfillment it gave so many athletes, she decided to call up director Don Megerle. “I’ve never run before,” she told him. “Oh, piece of cake,” the seasoned coach replied.
When she started training with the Tufts team in September 2009, she couldn’t finish one lap around the quarter mile track. But by November 29, she had worked up to the equivalent of 34 laps. The first person she wanted to tell was her father.
“When I came into the house, I called up to him and said ‘I ran 8 and a half miles!’” His reaction, as always, was one of pride and encouragement.
It was the last conversation she would have with him. Elie Baghdady died suddenly, later that day, at age 79.
For some time, Georgette Baghdady stopped running. The thought of fundraising, even for Tufts, left her numb. But her brother and a friend encouraged her not to drop her Boston Marathon goal. “What got my enthusiasm back was when I thought, ‘I could do it for my father,’” she said.
Elie Baghdady was a father of six and a successful scientist, scholar and inventor. Starting in the 1950s, he described how to better design FM receivers, signal-capturing research that was instrumental in the advancement of the FM radio. In the 1960s, he was called on by NASA to, among other things, create space tracking systems that accurately place satellites in orbits. He served on the faculty of MIT and later Boston University, where he helped institute the doctoral program at the BU School of Engineering in 1984.
“Education was a big theme in my father’s life,” Georgette Baghdady said. “He loved his professorial role. He loved to mentor and guide people both educationally and professionally. A lot of people who wrote to me after his death said he was a great mentor to them.” Raising money for Tufts seemed the most obvious way to honor his passion for learning.
With her father in mind, she continued her marathon training, but it was not easy. She developed severe pain in her right hip, then her left knee, then her right knee. She credits visits with the sports medicine specialists on the Tufts team, a carefully- crafted training schedule to allow her to heal, and encouraging emails from Megerle with getting her to race day.
Even as she was running the second half of the marathon, and starting to lose her strength, she learned that a friend would double her pledge if she crossed the finish line. She did, and ran right into the arms of Coach Megerle. “Georgette, you exceeded all my expectations for you,” he said.
All told, she raised more than $8,000 for the challenge. Her 78 contributors represented all phases of her father’s life, from retired NASA scientists Thomas Barr and Warren Harper, who had worked with her father to create the Saturn/Apollo launch vehicle communication system, to the librarian at the local library who frequently helped Dr. Baghdady work the printer.
“So many were doubling or tripling the amount of money I was asking for,” Baghdady said. None was more astounding than Harry Martin, Jr., her father’s former boss and president at Intelligent Decisions, Inc. She asked for $50. He pledged $1,000.
To honor her achievement, the Friedman School has named two Dr. Elie Baghdady memorial interns this summer, whose international internships will focus on maternal nutrition and health. It’s fitting, Georgette Baghdady said, in that her father had greatly admired his mother, Loulou Salibi Baghdady, who had been a midwife in their home country of Lebanon. “Practically half his hometown was delivered by my grandmother,” she said.
Although her father had many academic connections, he was always very interested in her Tufts education, and the Friedman School had been important to him. “I wanted him to be part of it still,” Baghdady said.