I invite you to take a moment, close your eyes and picture a legendary leader.




Did the image of a great-grandmother knitting a sweater come to mind?

She leads her family like the elephant matriarch leads her herd. Everyone follows the lead of the matriarch.  An elephant matriarch does not lead by force or by fear. Her authority is complete because she has gained the trust and respect of her family.¹

This week I attended the funeral of a family matriarch. The sweaters she had knitted for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren lined the walls of the community “hope” hall. Stories brought to light analogous connections between her functioning and that of the elephant matriarch.


  • She served as a nurse in WWII
  • All three of her daughters took up the call of nursing
  • Resilience in the face of trauma (husband seriously injured in a farming accident, loss of two sons to cancer)
  • Had an ability to connect with people in a way that made them feel as though they were the most important person in the world
  • She defended her son-in-law over a perceived conspiracy to frame him for a sexually explicit birthday card given to her daughter
  • Could calm an anxious grandchild by telling stories of her own similar blunders as a child
  • She had a quiet, personal and steadfast faith

The Elephant Matriarch

“Leadership plays a crucial role in elephant social organization. The members of a family unit keep together, rarely venturing more than 50 feet from each other. Activity, direction and rate of movement are set by the matriarch. The bond between mothers and offspring is very close and can endure for 50 years. If a calf wanders more than 15 meters away she goes after it and pushes it under her to protect it from danger. As the calf develops the bond transitions to a leader-follower relationship where the burden of staying close shifts to the calf and the mother no longer persues. Boisterous and sexually precocious behavior of pubescent males is not tolerated and brings on her wrath. The herd will not leave the side of the sudden loss of a matriarch.” ²

The leadership of the elephant matriarch ensures the success and survival of her herd. 

I married the matriarchs grand-daughter. I tell myself that a series of patriarch decisions resulted in my wife and I raising our daughters in a home less than 5o feet away from their great-grandmothers, but it is obvious that the togetherness force of the matriarchs invisible yarn is no match for a rational young bull.

RIP Margaret Elizabeth Macnab

A spiritual guru, Ram Dass, once asked a little old lady in his seminar how she came to have such a deep spiritual understanding  “How do you know?” he said … and she replied … “I knit”


  1. Joyce Poole, Ph.D, Scientific Director, Amboseli Elephant Research Project, Kenya, East Africa
  2. Richard Estes, The behavior guide to African mammals, 1991