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Lois MacMillan

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”

Norman Maclean, The River Runs Through It


There is an intimacy to the title of this project, Haunted by Waters: Seeking Freedom Through Maritime Means. 

First, my family’s book is Norman Maclean’s The River Runs Through It. My father, who supposedly fished with Norman Maclean as a child, earned his PhD in history at the University of Montana. He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1996. I concluded his eulogy “I am haunted by waters.”

Second, I have been a swimmer all my life. My mother taught me how to swim at age six. I swam competitively in high school and college and swim more than a mile every morning. My son is a Navy rescue swimmer and we swim together in the Pacific Ocean. I hope to swim the English Channel when I am 66 years old.

Most importantly, the title connects to the greatest antislavery metaphor in American history. In chapter ten of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass observed ships off in the distance, seeing “the countless number of sails moving off to the mighty ocean. The sight of these always affected me powerfully…Could I but swim! may be my misery in slavery will only increase my happiness when I get free. There is a better day coming.” Just imagine self-emancipating people beholding the water and while embracing their freedom. They must have been “haunted by waters.”

    Teaching story

    Lois MacMillan teaches American and World history at Grants Pass High School in Grants Pass, Oregon, however in her thirty-two years of teaching, she has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school level.  For the past decade, she has served as a Master Teacher for the Gilder Lehrman Institute for over thirty summer seminars where she has been paired with different American historians from different universities from around the country and teaches pedagogy applicable to various historical periods. She also serves as a teacher advisor for the Gilder Lehrman Institute, National Council of History Education, Retro Report, Bill of Rights Institute, and the National Constitution Center.

    After earning her National Board Certification in Early Adolescence-Social Studies, "Ms. Mac" won Oregon’s 2006 History Teacher of the Year. She was awarded Oregon’s Civic Teacher Award in 2014 for a student project on Oregon’s fallen soldiers since 9/11. In 2018 she won Grammy Museum’s Jane Ortner Award for incorporating music in the non-music classroom. In the fall of 2018, she took a one-year sabbatical in New York City where she worked with Title I high school teachers and students in fourteen cities around the country on Founding Era curriculum culminating in their attendance to the Broadway show, Hamilton. In 2021, Lois was honored to be named Oregon’s 2021 James Madison Fellow, 2021 James Madison Fellowship Foundations' Fellows' Fellow, and 2021 Southern Oregon Teacher of the Year.

    MacMillan swimming with her grandchildren, Berklee and Greyson.

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    MacMillan swimming with her grandchildren, Owen and Atticus.

    MacMillan taught her sons to swim and coached her sons, Matt, Billy and Mike.

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    MacMillan swimming under a hidden waterfall in Oregon with her mermaid sister, Camille, who unknowingly inspired her research and whose son will forever inspire those who love adventure.

    Camille is "haunted by waters" and embodies the spirit of Zora Neale Hurston:

    "Don't you realize that the sea is home to water? All water is off on a journey unless its sea, and its homesick, and bound to make its way home someday." 

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