Skip to Main Content
Chico State

Fond Farewell: Professor Emerita Margaret Mary Bierly

The sun sets behind an academic building with grass and oak trees in the foreground and puffy clouds in the sky
(Jason Halley/University Photographer)

Professor Emerita Margaret Mary Bierly, who taught psychology at Chico State for more than 40 years, passed away on February 20, 2024.

Born on July 21, 1949, in Sacramento, Bierly dedicated her career to empowering students and creating a positive environment to work and learn for all. After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology from San José State University in 1971, she continued her education at Stanford University on a full scholarship and completed her PhD in education psychology with an emphasis on developmental psycholinguistics and teaching effectiveness in 1975.

A portrait of the late Margaret Bierly.

Bierly spent a short period teaching at Arizona State University before moving back to California in 1975 and putting down roots at Chico State. Colleagues recall her as a force of positivity on campus, building strong friendships with fellow faculty members and collaborating well with colleagues across departments.

Judy Brasseur, who taught in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program for 30 years, first met Bierly in 1984 when she worked as a grant consultant for the School of Education and Physical Education.

“I wanted to develop a nine-unit training program for off-campus clinical supervisors of speech-language pathology graduate students,” said Brasseur. “With Margaret’s expertise and support, what started as a mere concept evolved into a two-year US Department of Education-funded project. Beyond that professional collaboration, Margaret and I discovered a shared passion for child language research. We exchanged findings and integrated new studies into our teaching, enriching both our professional and personal connections. As the years passed, our bond deepened, and Margaret became a dear and cherished friend.”

Throughout her career, Bierly produced more than 50 publications and presentations. With Kathryn Lewis, who worked in the College of Business for over thirty years before retiring in 2010, she investigated gender differences in career progression strategies used by men and women, and the ways in which men and women judge the competence of male and female political candidates.

“Margaret was one of the most talented, extraordinary instructors at Chico State,” said Professor Linda Kline, who shared an office with Bierly and taught beside her for two decades. “She lifted the psychology honors program to be the premier honors program on campus. She spent many hours working one-on-one with honors students. These students developed deep knowledge of their year-long research project and conveyed this through professional presentations at the end of the year.”

Known for her warmth and kindness, Bierly was equally renowned for a respectful approach to the needs of students and her co-workers, always seeing beyond a person’s immediate circumstances to find meaningful ways to help. 

“Long before the campus had a Basic Needs Program and a CARE Team, Margaret helped students secure temporary housing, purchase food, and connect with counselors,” Kline continued. “Margaret was inexhaustible in her dedication to graduate students. She chaired more than 70 master’s theses and served on more than 150 committees.”

Psychology Professor Emeritus Neil Schwartz, who also shared an office with Bierly after joining the department in 1987, noted how she welcomed students and naturally earned their trust. 

“When students came into the office to talk with her, I remember that she was entirely focused on them—their problems, issues, questions, even an occasional complaint,” Schwartz said. “She always remained kind and always looked for solutions that were in their best interest. I revered her for that.”  

Bierly welcomed many new faculty members to campus, serving as a friend and guide to those finding their feet at Chico State. “She was one of the first to greet me when I arrived on campus in the early ’90s and was there to help celebrate my retirement some thirty years later,” said retired faculty member Jim Wolfe, who taught psychology until 2014. “She was always fun and supportive and had a way to make you feel like your opinions counted and you mattered. When faced with adversity of her own, Margaret remained upbeat, always positive, and of a stout heart. My life was enriched by her friendship, and I will miss her very much.”

In addition to celebrating her care and dedication, colleagues describe her legacy as one of creativity and academic excellence. She retired in 2013.

“Margaret was a remarkable person,” said Terry Miller-Herringer, a lecturer in the psychology department. “Margaret’s passing is a significant loss, and I am grateful for the guidance and kindness she extended to me and so many others. I will miss her.”

Far beyond her work, Bierly’s greatest joy was her son, Michael. She also cared deeply for and enjoyed spending time with other family members, her dogs, and her pet tortoise.

Bierly is survived by her son, as well as sister Jane Johnson, nephew Eric and his wife Tracy Johnson, niece Natalie Johnson, great nephews Tyler, Matthew and Benjamin Johnson, and cousin William (Billy) Bierly.

A celebration of life is planned at the Lakeside Pavilion in Chico on April 21 from 1:30–4:30 p.m. All who knew Bierly are invited to attend.

 The University flag will be lowered April 11 in her honor.