Bio dean to appear in ‘grand, old Oprah Land’

By
Thursday, February 28, 2008

Students who turn on their TVs after class tomorrow might see a surprisingly familiar face on the screen. An interview with Marjorie Thompson ’74 PhD’79 P’02 P’07 P’09, associate dean of biological sciences, will be featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show at 4 p.m.

The episode, entitled, “The Age of Miracles: The New Midlife” is about “women who are changing the definition of middle age”, according to Oprah’s Web site. Beyond her day job as an administrator, Thompson is also a mother of seven and a celebrated finger-style guitarist.

Though she didn’t meet Oprah herself, Thompson said it was an incredible experience to work with her organization and be filmed for the show. Of Oprah’s huge, efficient organization, Thompson said, “It’s like a sovereign nation – grand, old Oprah Land.”

How she got chosen for Oprah, Thompson said, was a bit of a mystery. Back in October or November, Thompson sent in a package about her life as a dean in response to a call for submissions for a different story, she said. In January, unbeknownst to her, her publicist sent in one of her albums to the show. She said she doesn’t know how the “armies of people working on this kind of stuff” settled on her in particular, but that it probably didn’t hurt that she got to “hang out and work with famous people” as a performing artist.

Indeed, she does work with some pretty famous people. She said she started off simply, happening upon guitar playing at age 10 because she couldn’t fit a piano in her New York City apartment. Today, she says she has a “rich relationship” of performing with people like former Jefferson Airplane lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. He and other trusted friends spurred Thompson on to write her own music and pursue a career. Now, Thompson has released four professional albums and plays about 70 gigs a year.

Thompson said her segment of the show was filmed last Wednesday in Los Angeles and mainly involved an interview on her life story that – not surprisingly – had a lot of questions about her age and her unconventional activities. She also said there was a lot of footage of her playing that might be used.

In fact, Thompson said she doesn’t quite know what will air on the show because she hasn’t seen it yet. “I’m totally worried; I’m absolutely petrified,” Thompson said. During the filming though, she said she was “too tired” to be nervous, as she had just taken a 10-hour flight.

Meghan Markowski ’10 responded to the news of Thompson’s appearance with a quick fist pump and an “I love Oprah!” Other students interviewed by The Herald were not quite as enthused.

“I’ve never seen Oprah before, but I’ll definitely be watching tomorrow,” said Hannah Holdstein ’09, who is a teaching assistant for Thompson’s class BIOL 0320: “Vertebrate Embryology.” Holdstein called Thompson an inspirational person not only in her guitar playing, but also because “she basically created the biology department, made it what it is today.”

Thompson’s family is similarly supportive. Her daughter, Caitlyn Thompson ’09, said, “I think we’re all really in shock right now.”

After all, she added, “You can’t get much higher than Oprah.”