Obituary: Mariah Leahkim McGill, 1977-2020 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Mariah Leahkim McGill, 1977-2020 

Waitsfield woman worked to build bright futures for children

click to enlarge Mariah McGill - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Mariah McGill

“But the bears all barged in and they took [her] away.” Mariah Leahkim McGill, age 43, was tragically taken from her family in the late morning of October 26, 2020, when she was hit by a car while walking in a crosswalk in Waitsfield Village.

“There were never such devoted sisters.” Mariah came into this world, singing, in Austin, Texas, on October 12, 1977. Born to Nancy Call McGill and Olin McGill, she ultimately became the dedicated eldest sister to Avery, Jubilee, Aili and Karis.

“Teach your children well … feed them on your dreams.” Mariah grew up in Middlebury, Vt., attending Bridge School, Middlebury Union Middle School and the Gailor School. Although she jokingly credited her intelligence to “the Ilsley Public Library and Vermont Public Radio,” it was, in fact, nurtured by the entire Addison County community of teachers, Quakers, thespians, musicians, artists and instructors.

“Justice is the one thing you should always find.” Upon graduating from Sweet Briar College in May 2002, she returned to Vermont and immediately put her education and her passion for early-childhood development into practice as an educator and children’s librarian. Becoming frustrated with the profound challenges faced by many local families, Mariah decided to pursue her Juris Doctorate at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston; her goal was to improve the lives of children by addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality.

“Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.” Mariah married her childhood best friend, Talmage Jestice, in Ripton, Vt., on August 30, 2008. Mariah and Talmage welcomed their beloved daughter Mary Elizabeth (Maisie) on August 23, 2011. Maisie was the light of her mother's life.

"I would like to state for the record: I did everything that I could do.” Upon completing law school, Mariah served as the associate director at the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy at Northeastern University and as an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. While there, she coauthored pioneering papers on health care as a human right.

“The hills fill my heart with the sound of music.” In 2014, Mariah and Talmage returned to their Vermont roots to raise Maisie surrounded by family, lifelong friends, and a community that shares their values of kindness, compassion and stewardship.

“Reach out your hand if your cup be empty; if your cup is full, may it be again.” Since returning to Vermont, Mariah worked tirelessly to improve the lives of children and families. She worked as a field manager for Let’s Grow Kids; the director of the Early Childhood Leadership institute at the Snelling Center for Government; and, most recently, as a regional director for Building Bright Futures, where she was tasked with identifying gaps and developing strategies to improve the well-being of children and their families. These contributions speak to her profound dedication to her community, and her absence is an incredible loss to the efforts she held dear.

“For the joy of human love: Brother, Sister, Parent, Child.” Mariah is survived by husband Talmage Jestice; daughter Mary Elizabeth Sojourner Jestice; mother Nancy and husband John; father Olin and wife Svetlana; sister Avery and wife Aimil; sister Jubilee and husband Larry; sister Aili and husband Davey; sister Karis; and half-brother Tikhon. She was a loving “auntie” to Aislynne, Seamus M., Callum, Amias, Elbie, Lucy, Finleigh, Seamus J., Liam, Aydan and Hannah, and a caring sister-in-law to Flora, Belynda and Talena. Additionally, a multitude of cousins, aunts, uncles and friends both in Vermont and around the world grieve her loss and remember her with joy.

“How shall I send thee?” In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts, for the benefit of Maisie, may be made in her memory to the Mariah McGill Memorial Fund, c/o the National Bank of Middlebury, P.O. Box 189, Middlebury, VT 05753. Or, to honor one of Mariah's greatest passions, donations may be made to Building Bright Futures at or via check, mailed to 600 Blair Park Rd., Suite 160, Williston, VT 05495. The donation will support strengthening the early-childhood system and ensuring that every Vermont child and family has access to the services they need.

“Now let us sing.” A small service for Mariah’s family to say goodbye will be held this week; a larger gathering to celebrate her life will be held at a later date.

“And as the years go by, I’ll think of you and sigh. This is goodnight and not goodbye.”

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