Granny D — Doris Haddock — died at age 100 on March 9, 2010. When she was 89, she walked 3,200 miles across the country on behalf of campaign finance reform, a law undone a few months ago by an activist conservative Supreme Court. Dennis Burke was her friend and co-author. This is his eulogy for her.
Thousands of news services, from Peterborough to Bangkok, from personal diaries to the New York Times, have reported these last few days on the life and death of Doris Haddock. In her life, she did not cure a disease or end a war. She did not write ten symphonies or do whatever normally occasions such notice. So what did she do? It is worth thinking about in this moment.
If people no longer spoke aloud, or if they no longer looked at things with their own eyes or through their own thoughts, if they let others do those things for them, then they would take it as unusual if one among them suddenly spoke up and dared see the world independently, describing without filter or permission the vivid colors and true conditions of the world.
It is difficult to understand why a lady from New Hampshire who did little more than take morning walks — though she sometimes did so without coming back for several years — should be so lionized in death, unless we also consider what has become of the world around her that made her exceptional by comparison. She is seen as exceptional perhaps because the rest of us have become a little too reticent, a little too slow-moving, in response to these times of high challenge.
A thousand people have told me that, when they reach her age, they want to be like Granny D. I have always agreed with them, but we have had it a little wrong. We must not wait until we are 90 or 100; we have to be, even today, a little more like Granny D. Our challenges will not wait for us to age.
Walking down long highways, I remember that sometimes she would want to look at the small things killed beside the road that others could not bear to look at. She was a great artist in fibers and colors, even in how she dressed. No one had a better sense of hat. She would see rich beauty in places where some would never dare look. She seems to have turned off her hearing aids for the lecture when the rest of us were told we must not look here or there, and told how some things must be presumed beautiful or ugly, true or false. She simply and always wanted to see for herself.
Too often we are told what to think, even about ourselves. We are encouraged to trivialize our lives; to participate in our own reduction to mere consumers of products, passive witnesses to history. She wanted to see for herself what she might become, what she might be capable of doing that was helpful to the people she loved, whom were honestly everyone. She could see no defects in others without measuring them against her own shortcomings. Her anger was real and righteous, but it was about things and actions — it never lodged in her heart for long against people, even those whose actions she most opposed.
Because she could see our present democracy clearly, and because she could remember in properly punctuated detail the conditions of this self-governing country in her youth, this young lady of Lake Winnipesauke, this product of New England's town halls, this elder resident of the lanes where Thornton Wilder wrote "Our Town," this friend of ours who will be more durable to history than any Old Man of the Mountain, was the truer granite measure of where we have been going as a people and where we must go, one step at a time, into the American future.
The important thing Doris Haddock would have you remember was that she was no more special than you, and that you have the identical power and the responsibility to make a difference in the community and the world.
She received tens of thousands of messages from people who told her they had decided that, if a woman her age of bent back, of emphysema and arthritis, could step forth to be a player on life's stage, to make a contribution, then so could they, and so would they. And so they did. Those people live all over the world. We can never know what good that legion of people has done and will continue to do. Have they cured diseases, ended wars, written symphonies? Remarkably yes, they do important work now all over the world, and they live their lives, by their own accounts, with more satisfaction and meaning because of what they learned by watching our Granny D. And politically, if you care to trace the origins of the present progressive movement, you will find at its root a bare handful of people, including Granny D.
Her youthful energy lives on through those she touched, just as the youthful energy of the people who raised her and taught her many years ago continued on through her. You could hear the voice of Jesse Eldridge Southwick of Emerson College of Oratory in Doris's every word, and see in Doris's constant energy the creative joy of her Laconia High School teacher, Grammy Swain. If Doris was partial to the poetry of Robert Frost, it was because she knew him. He was her husband's freshman English teacher at Amherst. If you ever heard her recite "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," as I did on a desert road, you may as well have been in Frost's presence. All of those people lived on past their own lifetimes through her.
She was an extension also of those much younger than her, who are with us today. She was an expression of Jim and Libby Haddock's supportive love and many sacrifices, enabling her to become what she became. Her grandchildren and great grandchildren were her inspiration to keep working for a better world for them. She was an extension of the love and learning of her study group, led by Bonnie Riley and a remarkable circle of friends. Beyond their warm living rooms, Doris traveled on a river of their love and energy. If there were ever a list in marble of the names of the people in her personal world who supported and propelled her, who, in turn, were inspired and loved by her, it would extend three thousand and two hundred miles across America, and then across the seas.
Doris was always a little confounded by her late-life fame. She deeply believed that she was merely fortunate enough to find herself in a good play with a good cast. The old drama student never wanted to be more than a very supportive player, so that the leaders of our democracy might better move us toward the honest, just and kindly democracy ever just ahead, a vision that she kept as close to her thoughts as that old feather in her hat.
She would have us remember that our country is Our Town, that we each have the power and the responsibility to make a difference while we are alive, knowing that what we set in motion today will make a difference long after we are gone. Far more important than the old bodies we find ourselves patching up and hitching along, we are each also an idea and a vision of the world. We give the rising gift or dark weight of that vision to each person we deeply know. And that idea, that vision, is like the manuscript that grows from an old typewriter that will soon rust away to earth, leaving but the living manuscript. The Idea of us is the real us. The Idea is the living thing that survives because it lives on in our friends, survives in their hearts to help them better interpret and shape the world.
So, at the next turn of history and of opportunity, will we not wonder what Granny D would have said, would have thought? It is a part of us now, a measuring tool, something new in us that thinks like her. That is Doris alive and still walking with us.
Finally, she would want us to remember to keep working at things and to take walks every day if possible. To send Thank You notes. To keep asking for and expecting honorable change. To stay strong. After the recent Supreme Court decision that did damage to the bill she walked for, she asked me if I thought she might walk across the country again. I told her that she might only be able to do five miles or less a day. She had last month been in Arizona working on a book and doing three miles a morning. She calculated how long it would take her to get to Washington at 3 to 5 miles per, and decided she needed a quicker way to fix the Supreme Court decision. Well, now it is up to us, of course, and we won 't let her or our country down.
Thank you Doris. You didn 't fear death very much — you told me so. You needn 't have feared it at all.