2016-02-26 / People

Betty Dowling

Betty Brockway Dowling, 95, formerly of South Portland and most recently of Auburndale, Massachusetts, passed gently from this life on Feb. 19, 2016, at peace and with loving family at her side.

Betty was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 8, 1920, daughter of Ezra Smith Brockway and Emily Thiede Brockway.

When Betty was 3 years old the family settled on Long Island in New York. Betty graduated from Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park, New York, in 1938; received a B.A. in psychology, magna cum laude, from Hofstra College in 1942; and an M.A. in psychology from Columbia University in 1946. Her master’s thesis explored the psychological roots of racial bigotry, an interest ignited by the Jim Crow injustice she witnessed in Miami, where her husband, a Naval officer, was stationed during World War II. She remained a lifelong champion of social justice.

Betty and her husband, Robert J. Dowling, were high school sweethearts and attended college together. They eloped during their senior year at Hofstra, two and a half weeks after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Following World War II and, in its immediate aftermath, Bob’s deployment to Japan, Betty and Bob made their home on Long Island where they started a family. Bob owned and operated Dowling’s Fifth Avenue, a mail order camera business located on the 20th floor of the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. In 1957, the family moved to Orange, Connecticut, while Bob attended Yale Law School. During their time in Connecticut, Betty worked at the Gesell Institute in New Haven, studying child development. She was also active in the League of Women Voters and volunteered as a Girl Scout leader.

In 1960 they moved to the Boston area, where for 25 years they owned a gift store, Pine & Print, located first in Copley Square and later in the Prudential Center, with branches in Wellesley, Massachusetts and Ogunquit. They also owned Viennese Operetta Records, a mail order business specializing in hard-to-find recordings of opera and operetta. In the mid- 1980s they moved to Maine, where they lived in Brunswick, Portland and South Portland. In the mid-1990s they opened a shop in the Maine Mall, selling gifts and collectibles. In 1999 they moved back to Massachusetts and settled in Auburndale with their daughter and her family. Bob passed away in November 2006, four weeks before their 65th wedding anniversary.

Betty’s early embrace of social justice translated into a lifetime of liberal political activism. Beyond the realm of electoral politics, she lived her principles by reaching out instinctively and quietly to people in need, with empathy, compassion and practical help. She was particularly touched by children with developmental difficulties and by people struggling with mental illness or living with abuse. Betty was a voracious reader and a writer of short stories. She treasured hand-written correspondence; she had lifelong friendships carried on through letters, some of which were written conversations spanning more than 70 years. She spoke fluent German and she and Bob traveled several times to Austria and Germany, where they not only conducted business, but also indulged their love of operetta by attending performances in Vienna and Salzburg. They enjoyed other travel as well, and they particularly loved vacationing on Mount Desert Island in Maine. Betty was a movie lover and a lover of beaches and boating. She started life as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and she ended as a passionate Red Sox fan. She was a natural optimist with a cheerful and friendly demeanor, her presence often marked by quiet singing as she went through her day. She had an offbeat, highly visual sense of humor, a delightfully contagious laugh and a smile that lit up any room.

In addition to surviving her husband, Bob, Betty also survived the loss of her older child and only son, Robert Jeffrey Dowling of Bar Harbor, who died in 2003, and her only sibling, a brother, Robert E. Brockway of Boca Raton, Florida, who died in 2008. She is survived by her daughter and son-inlaw, Cathy Dowling Norton and George Sherwood Norton of Auburndale, Massachusetts, as well as six grandchildren — Michael Radford of Sierra Madre, California; Andrew Radford of Belfast; James Radford of Haverhill, Massachusetts; Dindy Norton of Auburndale, Massachusetts; Adrian Dowling of South Portland; and Robert F. Dowling of Massachusetts and Colombia — and three great-grandchildren, Rex Radford, Cooley Radford and Varda Radford; and three beloved granddaughters-in-law. Her passion for all else in life paled in comparison to her love for her family; they were the center of Betty’s world.

A gathering of Betty’s family to remember and celebrate her life and to scatter her ashes with Bob’s will be held at a time to be decided.

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