This Saturday we said good by to Dotty Brown at the UU Church in Gloucester. Dotty was a friend to all, and benefactress to the city and beyond. She was in the first generation of American women to be college educated, and because of this, had high expectations placed upon them. Dotty showed us how it’s done, and will be sorely missed.
Along with other friends and relations, I spoke at her memorial, and I am reprinting my short reflection here, if not by popular demand, then at least by a few requests.
There’s a lot of talk these days about reducing our carbon footprint, which is the amount of harmful greenhouse gas emissions each of us produces while driving our cars and heating our homes. There are on-line calculators that can tell us our individual contribution to climate change by asking questions about the way we live, and then gives suggestions on how to lower our negative impact on the planet.
Then there is the Dotty footprint, one in which we may calculate the amount of positive impact we can have on the world.
It’s been my pleasure to have lived down the road from Dotty since I moved to Eastern Point in 1979. She was working in Boston then, coming to Gloucester only on weekends and vacations. Her brother Lawrence was still alive, a man I remember for knowing the names of every one of Hannibal’s elephants that crossed the Alps. Dotty shared his curiosity about the world, and although elephant names were not on the top of her need-to-know list, she was delighted to have the information. She beheld the world with open wonder. She never tired of it. She was never bored.
When she retired to Eastern Point full-time and no longer needed to look bankerish, she bequeathed her collection of enormous and colorful clip-on earrings to my girls for dress-up, then began the work of creating the footprint she would leave on the North Shore. For all her comforts and privileges, she was keenly aware of the private struggles of individuals and the public needs of institutions, remedying them as she could, thus greatly increasing the sum of human happiness through education and exposure to the arts. Her civic and charitable accomplishments are extensive, but it would be the rare subject that would bore her no end. She would want, instead, to be remembered for her great gift of friendship.
Dotty was an epicenter of warmth, a footprint that advanced in ever-widening circles from her house on the water, embracing us all in a hug. She never forgot anyone. She greeted people as if they’d been gone too long from her life, no matter if it had been a single day or many years. Even after Dotty slowed down and was no longer able to travel, which was only fairly recently, she kept close tabs on her friends in their wanderings. On her calendar she noted where people in her life were at any given time, as if she saw the world as a game board, with all the moving pieces connecting back to her. And since she’d been everywhere, she was a vital source of information. Before I left for Iceland last year, where Dotty had been with Sarah on a birding expedition, she had this to say of the cuisine: “Roast breast of puffin, delectable!” She was open to everything, even the eating of endangered species, who, in another part of her life she was seeking to save from extinction.
Dotty understood that people were often a mess of contradictions, and did not exclude herself from that understanding. In her own community on Eastern Point, where she developed some of her strongest relationships and her most bemused entertainment, she welcomed neighborhood news that came with a side bit of dish, but would not tolerate a mean word about anyone. She appreciated the grand comedy of personal drama, and never held human fragility against anyone human. She knew that in the face of absurdity, the only thing to do was laugh.
She suffered pain and losses, as must we all, but she remained resolutely grateful for life and the lives of those around her, and did not cultivate sadness. Life was for the living, she’d say, and then she lived it fully. As we aspire to lower our carbon footprint and do less harm, let us also raise our Dotty footprint, and try to leave the world a better place, as she did, and so gracefully at that.