Tributes to our Founder, Margot Zobel

Margot Zobel, the founder of the Parkinson’s Unity Walk, passed away on January 29th, 2010.  Some might say she lost her long and difficult battle with Parkinson’s, but her valiant effort to improve the lives of others who suffer with PD met with unquestioned triumph thousands of times over.

Margot’s life’s work stands as a testament to the power of one person to inspire others to action.  In her quiet and dignified way she planted a seed in New York City that helped galvanize a diverse group of individuals with a shared illness into a vital, inclusive community around the world.

The Parkinson’s Unity Walk has become a shining example of what grass roots involvement can do to improve visibility, expand research and restore quality of life to millions who once felt powerless.  We are indebted to Margot Zobel for her vision, strength and unwavering commitment in the face of a relentless adversary, Parkinson’s disease.

Poem by Maryum "May May" Ali read at the 16th Parkinson's Unity Walk

May May Ali, Official Unity Walk poet, honors Margot.

A Salute to Margot

We salute Margot Zobel for being the catalyst for this monumental event.

The Parkinson’s Unity Walk – her amazing feat and how most of her time was spent.

Her daughter Vida said Margot was an activist who danced to her own drummer.

Intelligent beyond her years, always facing her fears, staying empowered with visions of wonder.

Like planting a seed 17 years ago with 200 people stepping strong.

That seed is now a tree and thousands will show to keep marching the mission along.

Margot Zobel – what an inspiration - transcending statuses, cultures, and creeds

Joined together as one with a shared desire to see a cure for Parkinson’s Disease.

Walking side by side with a glide in our stride; to us she passed the baton.

Today, we’ll keep going with a prayer and a knowing that soon we’ll see beyond

This time of struggle to place of triumph, when PD is no longer a mystery.

So keep faith in that day when researchers will say they have made Parkinson’s history.

Tributes to Margot

Margot Zobel - One Person Can Make A Difference

Every individual is unique.  For one, the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is a tragedy that signifies the beginning of the end of their productive life.  For Margot Zobel it was a call to action, an opportunity to further empower herself and to alleviate the suffering of others.

Margot had already been a life long activist.  Perhaps it began with her family’s decision to leave Berlin under the Nazis and flee to Bolivia in 1939. After seven years in Bolivia, the family immigrated to the United States where Margot excelled in academics and entered Barnard College at the age of sixteen.

Over time Margot founded and administered an alternative school, managed a print shop and established a computer consulting business, all the while balancing the obligations of family and motherhood.  She took responsibility seriously and found it somewhat odd that not everyone shared her dedication to hard work and high ethical standards.

As a political and social activist Margot devoted herself to civil rights, elections, ecology and the AIDS movement.  Even after she was diagnosed with PD she found the energy to lead a support group and reach out to other PWPs while continuing her work with other causes.

No stranger to marches, rallies and charity walks, Margot questioned why there was not such an event for Parkinson’s in New York City.  In 1994 she learned about a new organization called the Parkinson’s Action Network.  She attended their first Advocacy Forum in Washington, D.C.  The theme of the forum was “Invisible No More” because it was thought that one reason research and treatment were inadequate was because the Parkinson’s community itself had yet to speak out forcefully.

Within two months of the PAN Forum Margot had personally made all the arrangements needed to hold a walk along Central Park West in Manhattan. (Conveniently, the start was a few short blocks from her apartment!)  It took perseverance, fortitude and tact to cut through red tape at city agencies, police precincts and the Parks Department, but Margot would not be denied. 

Margot understood the important symbolic value of having several of the major PD organizations participate. She offered to pass on all the funds collected at the walk and invited their representatives to speak to the gathering. She listened to their concerns and suggestions. The result was a unanimous endorsement. And so, with a little help from Margot’s friends, the Parkinson’s Unity Walk was born.

Raising money was important to Margot, but it wasn’t everything.  She believed that bringing people with PD together would strengthen and empower them.  She kept the course no longer than two miles because that was about the maximum many people with PD could walk. She also understood that she would need media exposure to succeed so she overcame her natural reticence and promoted the event by whatever means necessary.

Margot’s Parkinson’s Unity Walk stands as a testament to the power of one person to inspire others to action.  In her quiet and dignified way she planted a seed in New York City.  She helped galvanize a diverse group of individuals into a vital community with world-wide impact.  Her legacy is proof positive that one person with a pure heart and a steadfast will can make a difference in the lives of many.

Ken Aidekman, Co-Founder, PUW


Margot Zobel planned the Parkinson’s Unity Walk for people with PD. It’s not that she wasn't interested in friends and family members; she just felt that the needs of PWPs came first.  That's why the Walk is only two miles long as opposed to walks and runs in which the task is too challenging for the very people they hope to benefit.

Parkinson’s Action Network founder Joan Samuelson showed her appreciation for
Margot's thoughtfulness in her address at the second Unity Walk in 1995:

I don’t know how many of you were in the same situation I was when I decided
to come and people said, "Are you going to walk?" and I said, "No I can’t
walk that far, because often I can’t." 

It was pretty nice for me personally to be with a lot of other people who I
knew were probably in the same situation - others of you who didn't know if
you could make it for sure the whole way.  But the one thing I did know was
that it would be OK if I didn't - which isn't always true in the world we
live in. 

We try to be equal to everyone else around us.  We want to be normal. We
want to be able to do all the things that we used to be able to do.  And
it's hard to give those things up. It's really nice to walk up this way
knowing that if at some point my foot starts doing the crazy things it does
or if I get tired that it will be O.K.  And, that somehow somebody in this
crowd will make sure that I get here by the end."

Thank you for organizing the Parkinson's Unity Walk and inviting us to bring our "ball of string" there in 1997. It was a pleasure to know you. God Bless You.

John Testa

I'm so sorry to hear of her passing; I know she will be greatly missed by all of the PUW staff and the entire PD community. She made a tremendous impact on PD patients and their families through her work and her personal tenacity. It was a pleasure meeting her many years ago. I'm confident her legacy will be fondly recognized by all whose lives she has touched.

Much love,

Lisa Caltabiano and family

I met Margot back in 1996 at a PUW volunteer meeting when the Walk had just begun. From what I recall, she ran the volunteer meetings out of her home for those who wanted to help out with the Walk. She was an inspiration to me since my dad was suffering from Parkinson's at the time. She undertook a huge challenge by developing this grassroots fundraiser which is now raising over a million dollars a year.  In it's infancy, Margot was happy if it broke a few thousand dollars. She was committed, hardworking and dedicated to this wonderful cause. She was an asset to the Parkinson's Community. She had faith and confidence that with the support of volunteers and her family that this walk would help raise enough funds to eradicate this horrible disease. She gave us all the hope to believe that one day a cure would be found and Parkinson's would be NO MORE. Although it was not found during her lifetime, I continue to share in her belief and know that one day we will find a cure. May she Rest In Peace, thank you Margot for all you've done.

Kathy Paitakis

We wanted to express our deepest sympathies and condolences to you about the passing of Margot Zobel. She was a true inspiration to the whole community. Her vision of the Unity Walk has turned into an amazing event that shows the passion and commitment of the entire community.

Kind regards,
Anne Marie Kearns

She was an icon for PD research.

Peggy Willocks

Thanks Margot for all you did for bringing awareness to the world about PD!

Lori Adams

She'll be remembered in our thoughts and prayers for her wonderful dedication and work.


George and I met Margot in August, 1995, as he prepared to undergo experimental brain surgery, a procedure called deep brain stimulation in the sub-thalamic nucleus. She had come to visit her friend Dale (who would be the second pioneer after George) and his wife Judy, but Margot’s caring and curiosity and concern also for George was evident. We five became friends in ways especially close and ever since that day.

Recently I learned that Margot’s homeland was the same country where George and I met; so this was another connection wrapped in love.

Ever since that meeting, I have supported and attended the annual Walk and other related activities. At last April’s Parkinson’s Unity Walk, I was caught on camera holding high a sign for Margot’s Team. It’s on the web site (photo archive, 2009, Speakers, at the end). I brought that sign home from New York to Massachusetts and, as is my disorganized manner, stood it up at the end of my kitchen table, alongside photos of George taken at two previous Unity Walks. Every day, throughout the day, I really look at the sign and the photos.

On April 24, we shall gather in New York’s Central Park for the 16th Parkinson’s Unity Walk. I shall remember this special Walk with the song, “Sixteen Candles,” modified as:

Sixteen Candles
Make a lovely sight
But not as bright
As your eyes were that night...

Concerning all donations I personally receive to “Fund the Research -- Find the Cure”: I shall be diverting them from my own name and register them to “Margot’s Team.”

May our friend rest in peace. And may her daughter Vida and others receive our comfort and consolations.

In hope for Margot’s dreams,

Pamela Bell

Rest well Margot, in peace and health, knowing that this movement you started will be continued on in your name.  Although I myself do not have Parkinson's, my sister does.  She was diagonosed in her 30's.  You were an inspiration from the beginning and you always will be.  We were proud to know you and you will be in our hearts and prayers and will be remembered with love always.
Thank you for everything you've done.  We will carry on in your name, with respect and dignity and we will find a cure!

Alison Konigsberg, sister of Susan Turci

What a blessing it was to know Margot and an honor to be associated with one of the most successful grassroots fundraising efforts - all because of her vision! Margot, inspired me to do what I felt I no longer could ... to make a difference in the battle against Parkinson's...
In honor of Margot's passionate leadership for our cause, I pray that her passing heighten our resolve to press on faster and further to find a cure.

Rest in peace, Margot!

Tamra Cantore

I have never met Margo in person, but I am aware of how she worked so devotedly for PD to help find its cause and cure.  I don't think we are very far away.  If a cure is not found, there is hopefully a  medication that will help our symptoms tremendously.   Margot was a really determined advocate, and she worked endlessly for this cause.    The unity walk is a wonderful event.  It is a chance to see old friends and meet new friends.  It is a time to network and discuss new things to do to help with fundraisers.  The really big thrill is the amount of people that participate in this walk, and the number has increased every year.  She was a wonderfully caring and kind person, and I am really disappointed that I did not ever meet her.  So, I think we must not mourn for Margot, but rejoice in her accomplishments.   One more thing, I believe she would really want us to continue what she started with the unity walk.  Margot will be in my thoughts as we continue our journey through life as a PDer. Thanks for all your ideas and thoughts, and work for such a special event--you are one who has really made a difference in our better quality of life with PD.

AL State Co-Coordinator
Parkinson's Action Network