2021 Greater Tucson Leadership Alumni Excellence Award
By Mary Minor Davis
Margaret Larsen was getting ready for her workday when her husband, George, told her he was feeling light-headed and asked her to stay with him to monitor his blood pressure.
“My first thought was, does he think I’m a cardiologist? I immediately Googled ‘luxury cruises for widows,’” she joked.
At 10 a.m. the doorbell rang, and she opened the door to find a dozen friends and colleagues along with the staff of Greater Tucson Leadership, all there to celebrate her being selected for GTL’s Alumni Excellence Award.
“They presented me with roses and champagne,” she recalled. “As I stood there with tears in my eyes and photographers snapping pictures, I felt like Princess Diana at Harrod’s!”
The GTL award recognizes someone who represents the highest ideals of service and loyalty to the community and who is actively demonstrating skills learned in GTL’s leadership program.
Larsen moved to Tucson in 1986 and built a successful commercial real estate brokerage career, selling over $100 million worth of commercial real estate. She currently serves as the co-owner of Larsen Baker, Tucson’s largest retail-commercial real estate investment company with 3.5 million square feet of commercial space and more than 500 tenants. In 2000, she turned her focus almost exclusively to philanthropy.
“I attribute my success as a community leader to the yearlong GTL leadership program because it expanded my knowledge of the community, taught me how to apply my leadership skills to nonprofits, and introduced me to many of Tucson’s movers and shakers,” Larsen said.
Melissa Lal, president of Larsen Baker, nominated Larsen for the award. “Margaret has a reputation within Tucson’s nonprofit community as someone who gets things done.”
The self-motivated University of Denver alumnus with an MBA also holds a certificate in nonprofit leadership from the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation at Arizona State University and is known for her humor and comedic approach to her work and her life. At Toastmaster International, she has won first-place awards in the humorous speech category twice.
“She likes to tell everyone we went to kindergarten together even though we’re five years apart,” wrote long-time friend and colleague Suzanne McFarlin, who has parented and volunteered alongside Larsen. McFarlin noted that Larsen’s leadership accomplishments in the nonprofit community are vast and include contributions to the American Heart Association, El Encanto Estates HOA, The Gregory School, National Charity League, Ronald McDonald House, Tucson Commercial Real Estate Women and United Way. She has been a member of Angel Charity for Children since 1997 and is one of only four people who hold the designation of Guardian Angel.
“I’m achievement-focused, so I love to take on projects and lead organizations with challenging goals,” Larsen said. As a participant in the Angel Charity beneficiary selection process, she said she hears lots of nonprofits presenting their needs. “I can’t ignore them. I put my heart and soul into helping nonprofits every day.”
“Margaret has been a true Angel not only to our organization but to our community,” wrote Adriana Rincon, general chair for Angel Charity for Children. “She has continually demonstrated excellence in leadership and is a source of positive influence and inspiration to others.”
Larsen said she has been influenced by others as well.
“I most admire Louise Thomas, who founded Angel Charity in 1983 in memory of her young son, Michael,” Larsen said. “She built an all-volunteer organization that has impacted the lives of more than one million children locally by raising over $28 million to support projects at 118 nonprofits. Now that’s a legacy! I admire people who start a nonprofit from scratch to meet a need in our community.
“When I am ‘resting in peace’ – no hurry! – I want to know that I have maximized my potential. It is important to me that I use my gifts of humor, motivation and influence to empower the next generation of leaders.”