Wins the Nobel Peace Prize
string of phone calls came from Oslo, Norway, early in the morning—before
daybreak—on October 20, 1970: “Could I speak with Dr. Borlaug, please?
I have an urgent message.”
Margaret took the first eight calls: “I’m sorry, but my husband
has already gone to work in the field. Could I take a message?”
“No, madam. I need to speak with him personally. It’s an important
matter, strictly private.”
Finally, on the sixth call, the person on the other end said, “I’m
a reporter from the Oslo newspaper, Aftenposten; I really need to
speak with Dr. Borlaug. You see, the Chairman of the Nobel Selection
Committee is to announce at 2:00 p.m. today, Oslo time—three hours
from now—that your husband has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
How can we get in touch with him?”
Margaret was awestruck. She thought, How could that be? The
message is not from the Nobel Foundation—maybe it’s some kind of
After taking two more calls and asking questions, she was convinced
that the callers were serious. She must get word to Norman.
She called the project office in Mexico City. A car and driver would
pick her up in 30 minutes to take her to the Toluca Agricultural
Experiment Station. She took the phone off the hook as she dressed
for the trip.
Toluca was thirty miles away; the last eight miles were over bad,
muddy roads. It seemed to take forever. As they traveled along,
Margaret wondered what Norman’s reaction would be. Would he be skeptical?
Elated? Dumbfounded? What if it really were a hoax?
When they arrived at Toluca, Margaret scurried to the ramshackle
hacienda, “headquarters” of the experiment station, and quickly
looked around for Norman. He wasn’t there. In her “kitchen Spanish,”
she asked where she might find her husband.
“But, Senora, el doctor is at the far end of the station.
It’s too far to walk, and it’s very difficult to get there by car.”
“Oh my, it’s terribly important that I see him. I have an urgent
Noting that Margaret was distraught, the station manager arranged
for one of his drivers to take her in a pick-up truck. She found
Norman working with six young scientists—two Romanians, one Brazilian,
one American and two Mexicans—all in sweaty, mud-stained clothes.
Within the next five or six days, they had to make eight thousand
individual selections of wheat plants, thresh and pack the grain,
and get the seeds to the Sonora experiment station by November 1
for planting in the winter nursery.
Norm was puzzled when he saw the pick-up coming his way, but he
remained bent over and kept on with his work. He was startled when
he saw that it was Margaret. He rushed over and kissed her. He sensed
that she was excited. Her heart was beating rapidly. Then he said,
“What in heaven’s name brings you out here? Has something happened
to Dad, or Mother?”
“Norman, you’ve been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I had a string
of phone calls this morning from reporters of the Oslo newspaper,
Aftenposten, confirming it.”
Norm looked astonished. Then, in disbelief, he said, “No. No. That
can’t be, Margaret. Someone’s pulling your leg.” He went back to
selecting wheat plants.
While Margaret was trying to convince Norm that the news was true,
another pick-up truck came toward them—carrying six reporters with
their cameras. Word had reached the Mexico City press.
The lives of Norman and Margaret Borlaug would never be the same.