“Keeping Dad Alive” is a collaboration between Margaret Poethig and her father Richard Poethig.

It started in October 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, as a series of conversations between Richard and his five children that tell the story of Richard’s resilience and of the family’s efforts to ease the psychic impact of his isolation in an senior living residence under lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. The conversations are glimpses into what sustains us over a long life and an antidote to the tragedy of separation from our elders during this pandemic.

The story continues with Season 2 in Spring 2021, on the theme of vocation. For Richard, vocation asks, “What you can see that you gave your life to?” The season begins to explore that question for Richard, and also for his caregivers.

Margaret produced her first podcast with Richard, of him reading his memoir “On the Sidewalks of New York.” You can find it at onthesidewalksofnewyork.com. Margaret also worked with Richard to collect his writings and history at richardpoethig.com.


Richard Poethig was a retired Presbyterian minister who devoted his life and ministry to urban and economic justice through the Presbyterian church’s “social creed”—a “vision of a society that shares more and consumes less, seeks compassion over suspicion and equality over domination.” Richard was married for 66 years to Eunice Blanchard Poethig. They had five children together. He passed away on November 22, 2021.

Photo of Margaret PoethigMargaret Poethig is the fourth of the Poethig kids. She’s worked nearly 30 years in public service at the local, state, and federal levels with a current focus on affordable housing with supportive services for seniors. Margaret’s collaboration with Richard began at age eleven, when he hired her for fifty cents an hour to work in his office. In Richard’s later years, Margaret managed his financial affairs, and she was by his side in his final weeks and hours.

Scott Poethig, the oldest, is a plant developmental geneticist and professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania. Living only a mile from Richard, Scott attended to his healthcare and brought him papaya, strawberries, and seltzer water, without which Richard could not survive.

Kathryn Poethig shuttles between the U.S. and Southeast Asia and is recently retired from the California State University system, where she taught global gender issues, religious social ethics, and peacemaking. Kerry talked with Richard about Manila Days, Kerry’s memoir blog, kept his bookshelf stocked, and organized family communications on Zoom and GrandPad.

Johanna Poethig is a visual, public and performance artist in the Bay Area informed by the dialogue between politics and aesthetics, the ridiculous and the sublime, and an inclusive cultural life. Johanna and Richard spent many hours during the pandemic doing exercises together on Zoom while contemplating the terrestrial and celestial.

Erika Poethig works in the Biden Administration Domestic Policy Council on housing and urban policy and was formerly vice president and chief innovation officer at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC. Richard’s writings on urban settlements and work is a source of inspiration in Erika’s own scholarship. Her eldest son, Sam, called Richard every day at 5 p.m., baked kuchen and delivered it to him by train, and sang classic 1930’s songs with him, in between civil discussions about history and politics.

Recording Challenges

It was challenging to record conversations during the coronavirus pandemic, especially when my four siblings are scattered on the East and West coasts, and my dad’s senior living residence was under lockdown. I (Margaret) carried my recording equipment everywhere, capturing dad at his doctor’s appointments, the sidewalk, and park adjacent to his senior living residence when we couldn’t get inside.

I have amassed recordings from GrandPad recordings, voicemail messages, smartphone apps, Zoom exercises and family confabs, and interviews using “studio quality” web-based recording programs. The audio is interrupted by outdoor noises, muffled by voices under masks and poor mics, and distorted by the internet and my amateur handling of equipment. My father’s voice rises above it all and fills me with happiness.

Music Credits

Season 1

Trailer, Episode 1, and Episode 13: “Horrible” from the album Mela 2 by the Mela Ensemble.

Episode 2: “Invention No. 1” by the composer and performer Chris Brown. Find him at cbmuse.com. Used with permission.

Episode 5: “Black Clouds Gone Bad” by Sore & Steal and “Take to the Skies” by Forget the Whale.

Episode 6: “The Crisper,” “Borough,” “Taoudella,” and “An Unknown Visitor” by Blue Dot Sessions.

Episode 7: “Vernouillet” and “Slow Strutt” by Blue Dot Sessions. “Binasuan” by Juan Silas Jr. and his Rondalla.

Episode 8: “The Zeppelin,” “Delamine,” and “Crumbtown” by Blue Dot Sessions. “Gravitation” by Blastculture.

Episode 9: “An Unknown Visitor” by Blue Dot Sessions. “The Lone Wild Bird,” by Henry Richard McFadyen.

Episode 10: “Uranus” and “Lost Cities: The Landscape Speaks” by Johanna Poethig with Chris Brown, used with permission; “Hello World” by Kathryn Poethig, performed with Scott Poethig and Johanna Poethig; “Phase 3” by Xylo-Ziko; “Kolderen Polka” by Tres Tristes Tangos; “Swinging” by Tim Garland, licensed from AudioNetwork.

Episode 11: “Di Me” licensed from Audio Network; “Scratcher”  and “Let Go Gecko” by Blue Dot Sessions.

Episode 12: Beignet Interlude” and “Gentle Son” by by Blue Dot Sessions; traffic and car door sound effects from Zapsplat.com; boxing stadium, Pinball auction, and jeepney sound effects by Soundsplat.

Season 2

Episode 1: “Phase 2” by Xylo-Ziko

Episode 2: “Savanna” by Xylo-Ziko

Episode 3: “Phase 3” by Xylo-Ziko. “The Fred Waring Show,” September 23, 1947.

Episode 4: “Last Light” by Xylo-Ziko.

Episode 5: “Balti,” “Crumbtown,” “Noe Noe,” “Delamine,” “Borough,” and “Hakodate Line” by Blue Dot Sessions.

Episode 6: Arctic Draba,” “Scallat,” and “Paper Napkin” by Blue Dot Sessions.

Requiem: “Urge” by the composer and performer Chris Brown. https://cbmuse.com/

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