Margot and Gary Ott are a study in contrasts. They are well aware of this, and play up their different approaches to entertain family and friends. She’s chatty; he’s initially reserved. She likes travel and being outside; he likes crosswords and a good book. They share a strong commitment to God and family.
But beneath their different styles is a deep commitment and shared effort that—together with faith—have helped Gary and Margot build a marriage that recently passed its 45th year. The phrase “salt of the earth” comes to mind as they recount their lives: working in worthwhile positions; rearing three capable children, two girls and a boy; and engaging with the communities they’ve joined in retirement.
Gary and Margot met through a dating service. “We must have hit it off,” says Gary, “because we dated in September and married in February.” In spite of taking 17 years off to be a stay-at-home mother, Margot built a career as a French teacher, based on an early foundation. When she was a student in public school in New Jersey in the 1950s, foreign language teaching started in the third grade—at the time a radical idea. Margot’s school alternated between French and Spanish. It was obviously a successful program, years later, when Margot was teaching French, the school’s Spanish teacher was someone who had been in the class behind her.
Margot eased into teaching, working first as a sub, where she was known as “the Ott children’s mother,” and eventually becoming a full-time French teacher. She taught everything from sixth grade to advance placement (AP) classes.
Gary worked as a systems engineer with Bell Labs from 1969 to 1997, then he moved to Tycom, working on undersea fiber-optic cable. At Bell Labs, “I was in on the early development of cell phones,” he explains, “working on analysis of propagation—how strong a signal was.” Researchers struggled to overcome such problems as signals bouncing off buildings. At the time, designers thought the phones would be installed only in cars; “no one thought that hand-held phones would work well,” says Gary. The term cell came from the coverage areas, known as cells, where land-based antennas communicated with the phones, handing off the connection as a phone moved away into another cell’s zone. Gary admits to being “one of the last” to get his own cell phone. “Our kids keep us up with technology,” he laughs.
Before the breakup of AT&T in 1984, Bell Labs was much more idealistic and devoted to pure research, says Gary. Then the business steadily decreased its idealism and the feeling of working to serve society; the importance of projects with a near-term financial payoff increased. Gary retired from Tycom in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks.
Moving to Quechee
The Otts’ oldest daughter suggested to Margot that she apply to teach at Mid-Vermont Christian School (MVCS). The Otts were familiar with the Upper Valley from visiting their children—all three went to Dartmouth College—so the thought of retiring to the area was appealing. In 2005, they sold their home in New Jersey and moved north. “It felt like God was opening all doors,” says Gary.
Though “retired,” Margot taught French and Spanish at the MVCS, and Gary taught AP Physics and Calculus classes, even though the small size of the school often made it hard to field a class. “I developed a respect for teachers,” he says. According to Margot, “Kids are kids the world around, though at MVCS there aren’t the discipline problems. I was really impressed with the professional attitude of the teachers. They do it as a ministry—the salaries are low. It’s for the love of the Lord and the love of the kids.”
Gary started and coaches the MVCS golf team. There are only about ten students per grade, so the school “encourages kids to do all sorts of things, because they need people for teams, music, and so on,” explains Gary. “We’ve tried to connect the school with the community and vice versa,” adds Margot, who promotes gardening at the school. MVCS elementary school students are excitedly anticipating the fruits of their labors in the three small gardens they planted last fall; they are also raising monarch butterflies and releasing them—all projects that get kids involved outdoors, and were supported by a grant from the Quechee Garden Club, of which, Margot is an active member.
Another community the Otts have joined is the Valley Bible Church. They help out in all sorts of ways: welcoming people, opening and closing the building, kitchen work and childcare. They discovered the church because their daughters, Michelle and Julia, attended it while they were at Dartmouth.
Other pleasures of retirement
Over the years, the Otts have enjoyed numerous trips to Europe, and several to Hawaii. “We travel on a shoestring,” says Margot. “We go on our own, not with a tour. We rent a car.” Much as they might like to see the Holy Land, a reasonable caution has kept the pair out of Israel, but they’ve been to other biblical sites, “places where Paul preached,” says Gary, adding with awe in his tone, “They’re not crowded at all, and you can go stand on a rock where Paul preached!”
While Gary might prefer to stay home with a good book and a tough puzzle, he has enjoyed these trips as he has catered to Margot’s wish to travel. “He wants to please his wife,” she teases, smiling at Gary. A smile lifts just the corners of his mouth as he, says, “I like to keep my sweetheart happy.”