Molly Macauley

“What is your only comfort in life and death?” – Heidelberg catechism, Question 1

Molly Macauley

Molly Macauley, by various turns economist, Resources for the Future executive, space technology policy maven, good neighbor, caring mentor, friend and encourager to all who knew her, was slain by an unknown assailant Friday night as she was walking her cherished dogs in her beloved Baltimore. She was 59.

The Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, and Space Policy Online provide particulars on her background and her untimely and tragic death. An obituary can be found here.

To know Molly was to fall in love a little bit. That’s because she loved others so universally and in so many directions herself. She loved her peers at Resources for the Future, where she was Vice President for Research. She loved her colleagues across the spectrum of space technology, economics, and policy – and across government, the industry, and academia. She loved her family and her neighbors and her city and all dogs of every description, saving them whenever and however she could. She loved the Orioles. She extended her love to the Earth sciences community, consulting on the value of environmental information, helping the American Meteorological Society think through its upcoming centennial, and much, much more. She loved teaching, and taught and mentored every chance she got. An example, just one of many: she volunteered repeatedly to meet with the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium participants year after year on a range of subjects.

To know Molly was to seek her wisdom. William & Mary, the space enterprise, the National Academies of Science – not once but repeatedly – would turn to her for advice and perspective on virtually every issue and matter. Not just institutions but individuals would go out of their way to solicit her input, on matters both professional and personal.

To know Molly was also to shape up and fly right. She had a strong ethical compass and unflinching sense of right and wrong. Scientists and scholars can at times be contentious (it’s as if we misheard Descartes to say, “Arguo; ergo ego sum.”). When Molly was in the room, she’d allow such discussions to run their course a bit. But sooner or later the belligerents would pause for breath and she’d then quietly and gently introduce a synthesis of what had been said. At one and the same time her counsel would draw the disagreement to a positive and brilliant close and leave the disputants a bit shamefaced. She could do this in any setting with a consistency and moral effect that was a marvel to watch.

Unsurprisingly, her death and its horrific circumstances have triggered a burst of grief and heartbreak across all in her orbit. The news accompanied by expressions of dismay lit up her corner of the internet over the weekend. The current national backdrop of violence and contention have added to the anguish and despair. Words have proven inadequate.

We’re in desperate need of comfort.

This brings us to a German scholar of the sixteenth century, Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583), who while still in his 20’s was commissioned around 1559 to write what became the Heidelberg catechism.[1] Both the catechism and its history are extraordinary and merit your further exploration when you have the time. But for present purposes it suffices that Ursinus thought the correct starting point for this summary of Christian principles would be some reflection on the source of comfort in a world that so often offers trial, uncertainty, dysfunction – and true evil. Here’s his full, inspired answer (the links provide the ten Biblical citations he appealed to as justification):

Q1. What is your only comfort

in life and death?

A1. That I am not my own,

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death,

to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins

with his precious blood,

and has set me free

from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way

that without the will of my heavenly Father

not a hair can fall from my head;

indeed, all things must work together

for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit

he also assures me

of eternal life

and makes me heartily willing and ready

from now on to live for him.

This can be truly hard to read given the circumstances of Molly’s death. Really, God? Without your will not a hair can fall from my head? You would let Molly die in this way? How can you possibly be both all-powerful and all good? How can you even exist?

Scholars have provided eloquent, compelling arguments on all sides of this ultimate human question. Remember? “Arguo, ergo ego sum.”

But our hope might be, on this week above all weeks, from her new heavenly perspective, Molly if she could, would once again provide a brilliant synthesis, and put this argument, like all the others, to rest. We might hope that sooner or later, when at the end of our respective lives we join her, we discover God had some questions about space economics he wanted answered, or that a surfeit of dogs arriving in heaven needed someone to walk them, or that he wanted to show Molly environs that improved upon Baltimore – that it was time for Molly to enjoy a better, perfect world.

Molly might go on to add her own desire: that if we really truly miss her, and value and respect what she gave each of us, that going forward we’ll all be a bit more loving, develop and freely share a deeper wisdom, and shape up and fly right.

Time to get to it.


[1] a summary of the principles of Christian religion in the form of questions and answers, used for the instruction of Christians.

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10 Responses to Molly Macauley

  1. Dawn Wright says:

    Dear Bill,
    It is true as you say that all of us who knew Molly are in desperate need of comfort. But your eloquent and moving essay surely has provided some. Thank you so very much!

  2. Dave Jones says:

    Bill, your words are indeed comforting. Molly was a comfort just by glancing in her direction. The smile in the picture says it all…that is truly Molly! Everyone who met her loved her person, her knowledge and her gentleness. I had the fortune of knowing Molly for more than 20 years and she has influenced my life…and will for a very long time. If there is an unanswered e-mail in any of our in-boxes from Molly we should do exactly what you suggest. Shape up and fly right…and be kind for the duration.


  3. E. Lucien Cox, Jr. says:

    I met Molly my very first days here in Applied Sciences in 2005. She responded to me as if I had been here for ten previous years with a wealth of experience. I will NEVER forget that! In recent times, she was going to work with me to choose young African American high school and college students to obtain Sloan Scholarships to work in Economics. I saw an instant opportunity to further help students and continue the vast dream Molly had. Now, I’m at a loss!! Thank you for your comforting, informative passage!

  4. Judith Curry says:

    Bill, thank you very much for writing this. I am totally shocked and saddened by this, Molly was very special

  5. San de Silva says:

    Bill, many thanks for this wonderful write-up.
    I too shed my tears in grief, for the sad loss of this great lady.
    I can only quote from Thomas Gray’s , Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:
    “Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
    The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
    Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,
    And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

    • William Hooke says:

      Thank you, San.

      Gray’s Elegy is particularly poignant and relevant here. It’s been cited twice before in LOTRW (you can link to this by typing “elegy” into the blog’s search feature. Molly might have been particularly supportive of the February 6, 2012 post.

  6. Scott Barrett says:

    Dear Bill,

    This is a very moving tribute.

    Molly wrote on many subjects, but her contributions to the economics of space made her unique among her peers.

    I would say she stood out even more for her beautiful heart, and her generous and positive spirit. Every time I’d interact with her, I couldn’t help but feel better about the world.

    Despite the terrible nature of her death, when I think of Molly, I am going to think of this warm feeling she always gave me.

  7. Ron Birk says:

    Thank you for your eloquent recognition of Molly and the expansive value she bestowed on our community. I’ve known Molly for nearly 30 years and appreciate the many benefits she brought to everyone she met and every project she joined, enlightening all with her special wisdom and encouragement. I cannot fathom why Molly was taken from our Earth in this tragedy, but certainly share your perspective that Heaven affords a better view. As we honor Molly, let’s all join together to carry on her wonderful legacy

  8. Dear Bill,

    Thank you for your thoughts about Molly and the senseless crime that took her from us too soon. To fathom the depravity of value for human life that would cause someone to take a life as beautiful as was Molly’s is to fathom a meaningless abyss. Our lives must go forward ever earnest in our quest to apply salve to the wounds that promote the abyss instead of the heavens.

    Margaret Clements

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