Obituary of Dorothy Padgett McGavick
Dorothy Padgett McGavick
A decade after the “Great War” ended, on November 18, 1928, Angels of Peace brought Dorothy Padgett to South Carolina, Henry and Mildred’s first child.
Her parents worked at two of the extended family businesses, the sawmill – run by the men – and the farm – run by the women. Less than a year after she was born, the world massively changed when “The Great Depression” began in October 1929. The family lost both businesses. Dorothy’s first memory of place was when her family lived and worked at an asparagus farm. Her paternal grandparents, her dad, his older brother and three younger brothers all worked the farm, and so did she from the time she was about three, sorting asparagus by small, medium and colossal grade for packing and shipping. That lasted until California could grow and market it quicker and cheaper, which the family learned when their freight bill for a rail shipment of fresh asparagus cost more to ship than the asparagus was worth.
As part of the “Greatest Generation” she was raised to be responsible, reliable and thrifty, as everybody had to pitch in to survive. As the oldest, the most was expected from her, and she did not disappoint. She helped raise her siblings, Henry and Ernest, aka “Punk”, and later the much younger Franklin (Alex) and Mary (Boatwright). She remained connected and even somewhat matriarchal to her Southern family to the end.
When she started first grade at five, she could already read. The school-issued ruler on her desk provided what she thought was the school rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and she ingrained that principle in her being for the rest of her days. Growing up she loved the rare opportunities she had to enjoy something other than work. Being tall, she managed to play basketball for all four years of high school, and her teams excelled with her at center, never losing until the state high school championship game her final year, winning three state high school championships along the way. (Long before Title IX sought to level athletic playing fields, girls’ basketball then was severely restricted to “protect” them: it was a half-court game, with a maximum of two dribbles before passing or shooting the ball.)
As part of the Ridge Spring-Monetta High School class of 1945, Dorothy graduated at age 16. She promptly moved to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1945, a few months before World War II ended. She lived in D.C. for three years with family friends from South Carolina named Corder: her roommates were the mother, five daughters and a granddaughter (so they warmly welcomed an eighth female). She is forever grateful for their kindness in letting her be one of their family, and we know they were blessed back. (When Mr. Corder was discharged from the military in1946, the family returned to South Carolina.)
By 16, she was already well aware of world events and affairs as her Mother Mildred would read them the newspaper every day from the time she was little. (That’s probably why Dorothy could read before she started school.) The entire country was consumed with understanding and surviving the Depression, and after World War II began when she was nine, local survival shifted to an international focus to keep track of friends, relatives and neighbors engaged in the war effort, at home and overseas. It was a time of high national stress, anxiety and unity as Dorothy came of age.
The Cordor daughter who had the three-year-old worked at the federal Census Bureau in Suitland, Maryland, an hour away from their DC home by bus. She kindly took Dorothy with her to work and introduced her. (The three-year-old went with them, too, as the wartime federal government 75 years ago provided daycare for employees. Was it because females dominated the workforce, as so many men were deployed? Or because it was a kinder and gentler time?) After completing an application, Dorothy was hired and started work right away in 1945. She worked at the Census Bureau for about a year, until they completed the 1940 census. In 1946, she began working for the Department of Agriculture, with the Auditor of the Dairy Herd Improvement Division. She loved her work there.
In 1947, she met young Marine Don McGavick at a YMCA dance in downtown Washington DC. He was stationed in Virginia but came to town every chance he could to lobby for a transfer back to Washington state prior to his scheduled discharge date of April 1948. Pulling political strings, his persistence paid off, and he got an early transfer. Although there had been prior talk of marriage after the Marines, he successfully lobbied Dorothy to come to Washington state to become Dorothy McGavick in 1948. (When she submitted her notice of resignation to the Auditor, the director, Dr. Kendrick, called her in and asked her if she’d met someone she couldn’t live without. She said “yes”. He told her that was good, as lots of folks married people they could not live with. Ironically, she and Don were separated by the late 1950s, and divorced early in the 1960s.) Don’s parents, Hugh and Francis, and his brother, Joe, all adored Dorothy and welcomed her warmly, as did Don’s extensive, extended family.
Don worked multiple jobs to support his growing family, while Dorothy supported and tutored Don first at Seattle U, and then “hosted” and mentored his nightly Gonzaga Law School study group from 1951-1955. (Thanx, GI Bill.) An “alum” of that group regretted Dorothy didn’t take the Bar Exam, as he knew she would have easily passed. Phyllis was born in 1949, followed by Hugh in 1952; Mary (Stinchfield) in 1954; and Kathleen (“Katie” Pollin) in 1958. Don took the Bar Exam and passed in 1955, and Dorothy’s place in life was again uprooted from a settled life in Spokane back to Tacoma. Don began work as an attorney with his uncle Leo McGavick. Dorothy was pretty much on her own raising four children supported by a network of friends and Don’s family. She was a remarkable, strong, kind, gentle, brilliant, loving Mother, who selflessly gave everything she had and then some.
51 years ago, on New Year’s Eve 1968, Jim Bigelow married Dorothy and she took his last name as she moved from Tacoma to Aberdeen, joined by Mary and Katie (and eventually Hugh for the 1969-70 school year). It’s easy to imagine that shift was nearly as radical as the one she had made 20 years earlier, moving from Washington, D.C. to Tacoma, Washington. (In her first flight, she flew alone to Tacoma in 1948. She looked out the plane window and let out a shriek as she saw Mount Rainier for the first time. She had definitely never seen anything like that, and never from alongside.) Her relocation to Aberdeen brought some ease, and new stressors to her life and new family, which she handled as she had her whole life: with kindness, grace and dignity.
In the next 32 years she would become Nana and Great Nana. While visiting her Pollin grandchildren in Illinois, with one phone call in the summer of 2001, she tragically learned she was widowed and homeless as Jim Bigelow had died in their home that burned to the ground. She was left with the possessions in her suitcase, the clothes on her back, and her family. Her strength, resiliency and integrity moved her forward beautifully into the next chapter of life. She chose to stay in Aberdeen. Her strong family ties sustained her. She was once again on her own to move forward, and she did. She later met Fred Cassidy - who would become “Great Fred” – and they shared the rest of their days together. Whenever Fred was “driving Ms. Dorothy”, she trained him to give money to anyone on a street corner with a sign. When he once told her he only had $20 bills, she told him “that will do”.
The past 71 years have seen the fabulous creation and nourishing of a sweet, loving, kind family, which was exquisitely blessed to have 100% attendance by four generations at Dorothy’s 90th birthday party at Hoquiam Brew Pub in November 2019. (Thanx, Patrick and Katie Durney.) Her four kids, 10 grandkids, and four great grandchildren all knew Mom, Nana or Great Nana loved them best. Each one has been deeply blessed to have been loved by Dorothy, who has bestowed unconditional kindness and generosity on her people in ways obvious, and in ways her clan may not yet appreciate.
While her mind stayed sharp – in her last six months she answered all of the dementia screening test questions correctly, proving she had “all her marbles” until the end – her body wore out first. She was in and out of the hospital and rehab facilities the last seven months of her life, frustrated that her body outlasted her will to live. She was deeply grateful for the fabulous care she received throughout. Her family rallied around her, and all got individual opportunities to be loved and say goodbye. Fred was with her every possible waking moment. His kids Sheila, Eileen and John Cassidy each came out from Ohio for weeks at a time since June to support Dorothy and their Dad. They lovingly stepped up big time when they came, and treated Dorothy with exceptional love and kindness. (With playful endearment, Dorothy alternately called Eileen “Gretchen” or "Marilyn Monroe”.)
Her clan had a three-generation WhatsApp Dorothy News connection to coordinate what we each could do, and to keep everyone informed of news and needs. Every step of her care and family coordination was done with Dorothy’s clearly stated best interest honored, with unanimity, cooperation and love. We are thankful for this best and highest use of social media to have had meaningful real-time connection: everyone stepped up and did what they could, in ways totally unfathomable 91 years ago.
Entering and leaving the earth plane are the same thing, only different, both coming from and going to the great unknown. When her daughter-in-law Laura asked for guidance in 1988 on how to deal with Dorothy’s newborn grandson Riley, she advised to “take him home and treat him like one of the family”. When it was time for Dorothy to go home, she was a tired and sophisticated elder. She knew she needed to be at Providence Mother Joseph Care Center in Olympia, and she was right. “MoJoe” took her in on November 1, 2019 from Grays Harbor Community Hospital – where she also received excellent care - and treated her like family till the end of her days. The planet’s greatest aid, Mahtet, set the tone on the floor to let Dorothy know she had chosen well. Nurses like Jill and Eugene joined in, skillfully supported and guided by charge nurses including Susie, Crystal and Laura. Insightful social worker Rita helped Dorothy and her family navigate equally unfamiliar and critical issues. We humbly realize they are merely headliners for a fabulous supporting caregiver cast whose names we never learned, from housekeeping to physicians to cooks to therapists to those we never knew who contributed significantly to make everything work. Dorothy and her family deeply appreciated that she received the kindest comfort care imaginable from MoJoe.
Dorothy’s grace and dignity are recognized and acknowledged beyond the limited sphere of her immediate family, and beautifully summarized at Don’s wake in 1987, when an old friend from Tacoma who had not seen her for years told her: “Dorothy, I finally figured it out. You should have been British royalty.” We who were blessed to be her family figured out her royalty long ago and were joyously reminded how blessed we were on a continuing basis. We still are.
She took her last breath and laid her body down on December 22, 2019, at about 4:20 p.m., when she arrived in Heaven with empty hands and an open, loving heart, having left the earth plane better than she found it.
Dorothy chose to come to Tacoma in 1948, and she has chosen to return now. Her final wishes to be buried in Tacoma at Calvary Cemetery, near Don’s final resting place are being fulfilled. She and Don made peace in his final days 32 years ago. Her marker will read “Dorothy Padgett McGavick”. Fittingly, her capacity to forgive, heal and connect family did not stop when she laid her body down.
In lieu of flowers, a donation to someone down on their luck on Dorothy’s behalf will warm your heart, their heart, and hers. Only have a $20 bill? “That will do.”
For Friday's service, dress warm, comfortable and colorfully!
Happy Trails to You, Dorothy, Until We Meet Again (in the Light)