Jane Magruder Watkins

Jane Magruder Watkins passed away peacefully on August 12, 2019. Jane was an integral part of the Taos Institute for many years as an associate, collaborator and board member. Her leadership, spirit, voice, vision, sense of hope, ability to see the best, and her support will be immensely missed. 

Jane was a dear friend, colleague, mentor, teacher, consultant, co-creator and so much more to many of us throughout the past 40 years. We honor Jane by sharing words from many people, remembering her and her way of being in the world that impacted millions of people around the globe. 

“The only way to have a good life is to help people… Empower the people you’re leading to step up and into who they are.”    — Jane Magruder Watkins 

Tips from Jane Magruder Watkins:

  • How we can be in the ‘moment’ and seize that opportunity to reframe from the negative to seeing the possibility:
  • Ask yourself (aloud or quietly) “Isn’t that interesting” – a chance to pause and reflect upon how you are responding to the moment.
  • Another way to use the “isn’t that interesting” is when you are in conversation and you find yourself having a reaction or judgment to someone or something they said – stop and say “isn’t that interesting, tell me more …”
  • Remember “It’s not about you” – try to not take it personally. Learn to move to the balcony from the dance floor and observe the situation. This can help us to reduce the anxiety that we may be feeling.
  • “Plan tight and hang loose.” Take the time to do the research, engage others, create a good plan AND be in the moment to recognize that some new information or insight has been uncovered and be prepared to ‘redesign in the moment’.
  • “Up until now” is a way to accept what is now or in the past and try replacing the words “I always, you never, I can’t” etc. with this phrase is a way of letting our brains know that what we may have perceived in the past as undoable is now a possibility. David Rock of NeuroLeadership uses the phrase ‘yet’.
  • “Just start spreading a positive virus and watch it grow.” What we focus on we get more of and so if we start to help others reframe to find, even in the most dire of circumstances that which gives life – we create a shift.
  • When someone would press Jane to give a definitive answer to ‘how to do Appreciative Inquiry’, she would often respond with “It just depends.” and as people became more experienced and again ask about how to “do” Appreciative Inquiry, she would laugh and say “It just doesn’t matter.”

Taken from – https://momentsbymoment.com/2016/02/28/life-consists-only-of-moments-so-be-in-the-moment/

Here we share words about Jane from the Taos Institute and Appreciative Inquiry communities: 

Jane’s excitement and welcoming spirit was contagious and her invitations to play, work, scheme, design, and practice together were treasured gifts that I continue to carry with me.     – Sheila McNamee, Taos Institute co-founder, professor

What an inspiration Jane was for all of us and what a loss. She left us with a fine legacy of work and memories.
    – Harlene Anderson, Taos Institute co-founder, HGI co-founder

Every time I was around Jane I felt gifted. Jane was animated by a love in her heart for every human being and was, as we all know, a giant in the domains of group dynamics, human relatedness, and positive change through her advances and writings in Appreciative Inquiry. Jane was filled with courage. She was filled with active hope. And she modeled “the cognitive power of love” in her growth-promoting way of life as an educator, thought leader, and mentor.

Jane challenged us. She could see the vast potential of AI in the midst of horrific histories of bitterness, separation, anger, fear, and anguish; and as a mentor she saw no better way to help people learn than to throw them into the real world of change. How and why she took such risks with me will forever remain a beautiful mystery.

Ralph shared with us that Jane Watkins passed away in peace. Thank you, Jane, for being the gift of new eyes in my life and everyone touched by your affirming, deeply developmental, and courageous presence. Thank you Jane Watkins.
    – David Cooperrider, Taos Institute co-founder and Appreciative Inquiry Creator

Jane was one of those special lights who almost seemed too bright for this earth, but who helped ensure all those around her would shine just a little brighter simply by being in her presence. Her light will be missed, but also felt for generations to come as her legacy of learning and love lives on through all of us and the entire AI community. Jane is once again bringing us together here virtually in the spirit of appreciation… this time our appreciative eye is turned toward her and now toward the heavens. I am grateful to her for so many reasons, but today I am grateful that she once again has brought me into connection with each of you.
    – Lindsey Godwin, AI Practitioner, leader and teacher

I am so blessed to have had Jane in my life as a mentor, teacher, friend and big sister for so many years.
    – Maureen McKenna, AI Practitioner

Jane is a celebration and reminder of an appreciative life! I can hear her in my head … her sage advice, laughter, and warmheartedness. She embodied Appreciative Inquiry, and it is evident that we have all been blessed to have her in our lives.
    – Jackie Stavros, AI Practitioner and professor

I’m flooded with emotion for Jane and Ralph and the incredible outpouring from this loving community. Several years ago she gave me a Tibetan prayer box that had been blessed by the Dali Lama I will treasure forever, or rather until the day comes when it’s my turn to pass it on. In the meantime I’ll turn to the night sky this evening for the annual Perseids meteor shower and look for the boldest, brightest meteor which will have to be Jane up there, leading the way again, free at last, knowing someday we’ll be together again, all of us, for all time. Peace and blessings to you Ralph, and to all of you my dear friends.
    – Jackie Kelm, author of Appreciative Living

Jane exuded such positiveness and generosity, she will be remembered fondly by many of us.
    – Dan Wulff and Sally St. George, Taos Institute Board members

If we have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants, to paraphrase Isaac Newton.
    – Daune Bidwell, Taos Institute Board member

So very sad, and memories of Jane are already stirring in me: her smile, her kindness, generosity and encouragement, and those wonderful stories. There is comfort to be found there and I will miss her.
    – Julie Barnes

Click on this link for…A tribute to Jane Watkins from Jen Silbert –https://medium.com/@jhsilbert/dear-jane-i-wanted-you-to-know-fb371d3973ba

Dear Friends, (a message from Joep de Jong)

I received a message from Ralph informing me that Jane has peacefully passed away at 6:15 this morning (August 12th). Ralph has asked me to mail you to inform you about this sad, yet not unexpected moment.

I know that we all individually share great, wonderful stories about Jane and Ralph and that we could easily fill days if not weeks sharing those. Jane has meant so much to our community, something we also celebrated in many, many ways. Professionally probably her amazing work was summarized in a perfect way when she received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Kathmandu in 2009. But I guess also her teaching around the world – with a specific love for Africa -, her writing, her work around NTL and the TAOS Institute, it all made a difference to the thousands of people who were touched by her and as a result to our world.

For me the friendship and the love, trust and care I experienced in all our contacts, both when it came to appreciative inquiry as well as in the encounters where we talked about the children and played games, will stay with me as a precious gift she gave to me and I believe to all that have known her. As a footnote I’ve attached the short film I made with her in 2015, when I visited her and Ralph at their home in Williamsburg. Jane agreed to do this interview even though she was already aware that she was losing her memory and I still love the way she talks about one of her greatest passions, Appreciative Inquiry.

Today we lost ‘the Mother of AI’ as some of us affectionately called her, as she says in her own words: ‘one of the luckiest little girls on earth’ and I believe I speak in her spirit when I say that it is important to look at the sadness and the pain her loss is bringing us, and that when we look deep into our hearts we will see the joy she has brought to all of us! She probably would want us to remember and share this joy and these great stories, because that is who she is!

I’m sure I speak on behalf of all of us when I wish Ralph strength in dealing with the loss of Jane. He mentioned in his message to me that he would welcome any messages from you and will personally respond to them.

You are invited to watch the short film at: Link to Jane portrait on AI: https://vimeo.com/131893449

With warm regards to you all,
    – Joep

Thank you, dear Joep, for passing on this message which you did so beautifully. I loved watching the video recording of Jane again. It made it easier to accept, as it’s a powerful statement Jane lives on in each of us. She has touched our souls deeply and we are all forever changed and grateful. Thank you for doing this video work.

Dear Ralph, my heart is so hurting for you. I wish you peace and joy as you accept all the love that is surrounding you, as it always has, but right now it is flowing especially powerfully and holding you.
    – Robyn Stratton Berkessel

What can one say when someone who helped me see the world in whole new ways leaves this earth. It reminds me of the powerful work done and the powerful work yet to be undertaken. It reminds me that Jane’s voice has been diminished and now is gone but the spirit of her work is still amongst us. It reminds me that our AI community is a world woven from our best selves in a tapestry that is forever changing. It reminds me that honouring a colleague — I would like to think friend — now gone is the most important thing I will do on this day.
     – Joan McArthur-Blair, AI Consultant

When I remember Jane (I met her in the UK with Anne Radford for a wonderful retreat and also with Mette Jacobsgaard for the first AI training I attended, in the US for her tribute) I remember a lady that had endless hope in the human kind, always encouraging others to develop their best with a so great sense of humor. I remember 10 years ago, when I attended a training co facilitated by her, I asked her: “I am more interested by the appreciative leadership than by the appreciative process”. Do you know somebody who could teach me? She replied smiling: “Yes, I know somebody, and she pointed her finger to me saying: you are going to do it!” I was so surprised with her answer and this unexpected and provoking statement and it stayed in my mind, heart and guts for two years before I decided to launch my first AI training in France. Dear Jane, how grateful I am that I met you on our path once! I am also grateful for all the AI community that represents for me, hope, generosity, joy, possibilities and a source of great friendship.
    – Bernard Tollec, AI Practitioner

Jane was such an unforgettable person. Having cared for someone who had dementia for many years, I have come to think of ‘death by dementia’ as a liberation and a recovery of power. So I will think that way about Jane as well. I see her flying at full capacity.
    – Sallie Lee

Thanks to Jane

With Love from Ada Jo
        August 12, 2019

Thanks to Jane
Almost 30 years ago
I flew to Cleveland
to meet a man named David

Thanks to Jane
We created a different paradigm
for international development
building on existing strengths
and celebrating local successes

Thanks to Jane
We traveled the world
for seven years spreading
Appreciative Inquiry from Africa
to Asia, Latin America and beyond

Thanks to Jane
My life and the lives of
thousands around the world
are blessed with the will to first
Find the best and go from there

When the sun shines
I will feel Jane’s smile
When the moon rises
Look for her among the stars.

Jane is/was special to so many of us.  She believed our collective and the appreciative capacity in all of us, and helped so many live into it.  In this moment I imagine she has already started her work again toward building the spiritual capacity to send us all so we might bring more appreciate approaches to the people here on the planet. Guide us to be the change we want to see and to build bridges to a positive future for our planet and the people in the world around us.
    – Roz Kay

She worked in the field of Organization Development for 40 years. She worked in and consulted to organizations in the business, government and not-for-profit sectors. Her work in over 50 countries grounded her work in a global consciousness that values the diversity and possibility. Since the mid-1980’s, she worked with David Cooperrider to develop and spread Appreciative Inquiry (AI) around the globe. As an early innovator in the use of Appreciative Inquiry, she experimented with its application in all aspects of organizational life in multiple settings and cultures, as well as in personal growth and human development. She was especially intrigued with the emerging global environment that called for new and innovative processes and approaches to change. She saw Appreciative Inquiry as a bridge that enables organizations, communities, individuals and couples to embrace the emerging paradigm, recreating themselves and their realities by imagining and living into their own unique visions of the future.

Jane held director level positions in two International Development Agencies, served on the director’s staff of the Action Agency, and has owned her own business.

Jane served as Chair of the Board of the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral and was an Emeritus member of NTL. She established an Appreciative Inquiry Certificate Program with a partnership between NTL and the Weatherhead School at Case Western Reserve University. She was a Founding Partner of AI Consulting and a principal in the firm of Appreciative Inquiry Unlimited.

She taught Appreciative Inquiry in Pepperdine University’s MSOD and EdD programs and with the OSR Master¹s program at the University of Seattle. She also taught AI through NTL, the Taos Institute, and in client organizations. She published several articles about AI and is co-author with Bernard Mohr of the best-selling AI book: “Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination.” Jane earned an MA in English Literature; an MS in Organizational Development and 2 years of post graduate research and study at Cambridge University, UK.

Jane Magruder Watkins – Our Memories of Jane

Jane Magruder Watkins, MSOD Files & Links


November 16, 2009 at the AI World Conference in Nepal, Jane received the Lifetime Achievement Award, from David Cooperrider, for her history of excellent work in Appreciative Inquiry throughout the world.