Margaret Helene Fritz Jones, exuberant cultivator of gardens and gardeners, passed away peacefully at age 70, August 15, 2017, with her husband, Peter Michael Mytton Jones; sister, Dorothy Brett; and children, Charlie and Katie Matlack, at her side.
A public Celebration of Life will be held Oct. 12 at 2 p.m. at the San Diego Botanic Garden, 230 Quail Gardens Dr. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the San Diego Botanic Garden (760-436-3036).
Margaret was born in Harrisburg, Penn. on November 16, 1946. Her parents, Karl and Helene Fritz, ran a dairy farm in Bernville, Penn. Karl and Helene were first-generation German immigrants, and Margaret grew up speaking only German at home.
Margaret studied in a one-room schoolhouse through grade six. She then flourished at the local public school in Bernville: in addition to graduating as valedictorian of her class, she was the drum majorette and played field hockey, and still did farm chores after school.
Known for smarts, kindness, and beauty, Margaret was also Prom Queen, the “Miss Congeniality” Dairy Princess, and the FFA Sweetheart, and represented Bernville in the Berks County Junior Miss contest.
In 1968, Margaret earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Albright College in Reading, Penn. She worked in Pennsylvania as a science teacher, and moved to Cape May, N.J. to waitress. While out for a drink with her sister, she met Bruce Matlack, who would become her first husband. Shortly after, they moved to Long Beach, Calif. together, and married in 1970.
In California, Margaret pursued medical technologist credentials at St. Mary’s Hospital, then earned a master’s degree in medical technology from CSU Dominguez Hills in 1979. Soon she secured a job at Beckman Instruments, and was trained on the SMA 12 blood analysis instrument, working directly with Arnold Beckman.
Margaret was then accepted to a program at MIT, but instead elected to travel the world: as coach and companion to Bruce on the international windsurfing racing circuit, and then as crew with him, sailing yachts to the Caribbean and Central America.
Margaret and Bruce had a son, Charles, in 1982 and a daughter, Kathryn, in 1984. Margaret quit her job to parent full-time, and enjoyed gardening, organizing neighborhood playgroups, leading arts and crafts classes, and serving as a docent at Sherman Gardens.
Margaret twice triumphed over breast cancer, in 1988 and 1997. In the 1980s, in spite of strong taboos against discussing breast cancer, she spoke publicly about the disease, even appearing on a public television special on the subject.
In 1988, opting out of city life, Margaret and Bruce moved to an avocado ranch in Bonsall in North San Diego County, where they embarked as a team into residential real estate sales. Margaret helped organize a neighborhood children’s group, the Chipmunk Club; advocated for bilingual education and fair treatment of migrants in public schools; and unmistakably voiced her encouragement and support at her children’s sports competitions around San Diego County.
In 2000, Margaret began marathon training to fundraise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, raising well over $10K for cancer research. Bruce and Margaret divorced in 2004.
After divorcing, Margaret reconnected with the gardening community as a docent at Quail Botanical Garden (now the San Diego Botanic Garden), where she would meet her second husband, Peter Jones.
Margaret and Peter were married in 2009 and worked together to quickly became pillars of the garden’s community, whether leading new volunteer orientation classes or meticulously planning and building multiple winning entries for the botanic garden at the San Diego County Fair. Margaret was the queen of the “Undersea Garden” portion of the garden, and shared her expertise in the niche world of topiary succulent gardening.
Peter and Margaret found refuge and community in the public garden where they formed many deep friendships; they likewise found happiness in transforming the grounds of their Escondido estate into a world-class garden renowned by succulent experts. Peter and Margaret also enjoyed wine-tasting, art collection, and visiting family and friends old and new around the West, Hawaii and the world.
Though diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011, Margaret continued to enjoy every moment of her life as a joyful, sometimes outspoken creative spirit. In May, she and Peter organized, planned and led a seven-day trip for 14 gardeners to Baja California, where she reveled in the beauty of endemic plants, and marveled at the mother gray whales who fearlessly courted the touch of human hands.