Meet one of Montgomery’s most interesting and engaged residents and absorb her well-tested life advice.
Henrietta Boggs MacGuire vividly recalls standing atop the edge of one of Costa Rica’s largest volcanos. At an altitude of about 10,000 feet, the wind roared, lifting wisps of smoke in all directions. “Will marriage to you be like this volcano?” she asked the man who was awaiting an answer to his proposal. “Marriage to me will be much worse,” he told her. “But I can guarantee you will never be bored.”
It was 1940, and MacGuire was a student at Birmingham Southern College. She’d only planned to spend the summer in Costa Rica with her aunt and uncle. But that day, on the volcano, she agreed to marry Costa Rican coffee farmer named Jose’ Figueres Ferrer. In a few short years, Figueres would become the country’s president after leading a revolution to overthrow Costa Rica’s oppressive government; Henrietta would become the country’s first lady. The volcanic proposal foreshadowed the volatility she’d soon experience. There were many days she’d be forced to take off running through the mountains, trying to protect her children from a barrage of bullets.
After the government stabilized, she was thrust into political power, becoming a pivotal figure in the country’s new democratic government. During those years, she fought for women in the country to have the right to vote. “I remember repeatedly yapping at my husband, ‘How can we call ourselves a democracy if we don’t allow half the population to vote?’” He gave into her repeated requests, “Just to get me off his back,” Henrietta said.
Her time in Costa Rica and her marriage to Figueres, also known as Don Pepe, ended in the 1950s. After a brief time spent living in New York and then Paris, MacGuire got a call from an old acquaintance named Hugh MacGuire, a prominent doctor in Montgomery who served as the chief of staff at Jackson Hospital during the 1960s. That phone call brought her back to Alabama, and she later married Dr. MacGuire and became an active member of Montgomery’s civic and charitable circles.
Over the last few decades, MacGuire has brought some of her revolutionary spirit to her community, bringing her courage, quick wit and forward thinking to multiple conversations and causes. She spent endless hours volunteering with various political groups and non-profits, especially the League of Women Voters, area arts organizations and Booker T. Washington Magnet High School.
She is also one of the founders of the former Montgomery Living magazine, now known as AL Metro 360. She and a lawyer friend started it in 1996 to challenge the status quo, but when they realized that controversy wasn’t well received by advertisers, it transitioned into the lifestyle magazine it is today. MacGuire still goes into the office most mornings, serving as an advisor and writer for the current owners and editors.
MacGuire celebrated her 100th birthday this past May. Mayor Todd Strange helped mark the milestone with a city proclamation making June 17, the day of her birthday party, “Henrietta Boggs MacGuire Day” in Montgomery. “I don’t know how you could aspire for more,” MacGuire said, her appreciation and amusement obvious.
Montgomery’s changing landscape makes her feel hopeful for the future; she pointed to the recently constructed Memorial for Peace and Justice as well as young leaders who have stepped up to offer their talents to the city. After a century of contributions that paved the way for women’s rights and fought against convention, MacGuire remains remarkably youthful, funny and active.
She’s also still eager to share the wisdom she’s gleaned from her long life experience. “Our society applauds the rich and famous,” she said, “At the end of the day, you cannot curl up with your stock options. You need human contact. Taking care of relationships is of enormous importance.” As is finding ways to keep your brain challenged. “Find something or many things in which you can invest time, effort and dedication so that you bring about meaningful change. That is my advice.”