To Doris Matthews White, Her Family, and Her Friends

Tom Burke and Doris Matthews White

Tom Burke and Doris Matthews White

On May 5, 2013, four generations of Doris Matthews White’s family convened at her apartment building in East Boston to celebrate her 95th birthday. They came from as far away as Nevada and Florida. I was honored that she asked me to speak on her behalf. This is what I said.

This is a wonderful occasion, with four generations of Doris’s family here to celebrate her birthday and the birthdays of a few other family members who were also born around this time of the year.

I’m one of Doris’s many friends from Winthrop. We’ve come to know her as our Queen Bee. We’re her fans and friends and admirers. I know I speak for all of those friends and admirers when I say it’s been a wonderful blessing that she’s come into our lives, and that we’ve had the privilege to know her.

Doris and her children

Doris and her children

I’ve met with Doris several times to hear the stories of her life and of her family, and my work on that is far from complete. But I’d like to share with you just a few of the things I’ve already learned from her.

Doris’s mother’s maiden name was Rich. Doris has traced her roots all the way back to Father Hugh Rich, of the Kingdom of Aragon. At one point in his life, Father Rich journeyed to England to become the confessor of Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor, who died as a martyr for opposing King Henry VIII.

Your family is also descended from two of the great names in early colonial America, John Endecott and John Winthrop.

John Endecott, the first Governor of Massachusetts, served for 16 years. He also was a landowner and planter, and he planted the Endecott Pear Tree in Danvers. It is believed to be the oldest cultivated tree in America. Doris is a member of the Endecott Society. Governor Endicott Peabody of Massachusetts is his descendant, and therefore a relative.

John Winthrop was governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. He served 12 terms. His writings have provided for us much of the knowledge of what the founders of our country accomplished. Every time you hear someone mention Boston as the Shining City on a Hill, that’s from John Winthrop, a patriarch of your family. His descendants include John Forbes Kerry, now the U.S. Secretary of State, and Charles William Eliot, a president of Harvard. Another John Winthrop was also briefly a president of Harvard.

Doris and six of her great-grandchildren

Doris and six of her great-grandchildren

Moving to the American revolution and the fight for independence — your ancestor Daniel Townsend fought at Lexington, in the first battle of the revolution, and he gave his life. April 19, 1775, Daniel was trapped in a farmhouse with about 30 other patriots. The British set fire to it, and Daniel was able to break open a window and let all the others escape. But he did not escape…he was shot and killed by the redcoats.

He is buried in Lynnfield, just about a mile from where my own son and grandson now live. His epitaph reads:

SACRED to the memory of Mr. Daniel Townsend
Who was slain at the Battle of Lexington April 19th 1775, aged 36
Shades, we trust
Lye, valiant Townsend in the peaceful
Immortal honours mingled with thy dust
What tho thy body struggled in the gore
So did thy Saviour’s body long before
And as he raised his son by power divine
So the faire power shall also quicken thine,
And in eternal glory mayst thou shine

Daniel’s wife Zerviah died six months later, and she lies beside him in Lynnfield.

Also serving the American cause was another ancestor, James Rich. He was a sailor and a senior officer on a privateering vessel. Privateers were critical to the revolution; they, not the navy of John Paul Jones, were the real American naval force of those days. The privateers went up against the strongest navy in the world, the British.

Family members call her "Googie." If it can be found on line, Doris will find it!

Family members call her “Googie.” If it can be found on line, Doris will find it!

And then of course there’s Doris herself. We, her friends have seen a photo of her from her childhood, back in the early 1920’s. What was she doing? Selling poppies – the flowers that grow in the fields of Flanders. Poppies were sold to help out World War I soldiers and their families. Doris has been helping others ever since she was four years old.

And the tradition of service continues. Tom served his country with a full career in the United States Air Force. Ian, of the next generation, is a pilot as well. And I’m sure there are more whose lives I don’t yet know about.

To Doris’s great grandsons Sean and Jonathan, who I understand are meeting her for the first time – this is just a small and incomplete example of all that your marvelous family has done for our country. And even well before our country was founded, going back to the days of Saint Thomas More, for the causes of freedom and justice.

Again, I know that I speak for all of Doris’s Winthrop friends when I say it has been an utter joy for us to get to know her, and to hear her stories, and to have a share in her wisdom.

I would like to end, if I may, with a prayer. I would like to quote some lines from a beautiful hymn from our Jewish friends. They, perhaps more than any other people, know how important it is to pass on to our children and grandchildren the values we have learned. To do so is not just for people of one particular faith, but for everybody.

The hymn is called L’dor VaDor, and it says:

We are gifts and we are blessings, we are history in song,
We are hope and we are healing, we are learning to be strong
We are words and we are stories, we are pictures of the past
We are carriers of wisdom, not the first and not the last.

Remembering our families and honoring our traditions is not about the past. It’s about who we are now. It guides us into our own futures, so we can all do our parts to make this a better world, both as individuals and as American citizens.

And because we – all those present today, all and those Winthrop friends for whom I speak – know and love Doris Matthews White, we’re very well prepared to do just that.

Doris, Queen Bee – Happy Birthday – and thank you.

One Response to “To Doris Matthews White, Her Family, and Her Friends”

  1. Tom Barrett Says:

    FROM: son Tom. Yesterday was special and it took Tom Burke’s kind words to “sum it up.” I especially enjoyed the prayer given at the end of the day. I was fortunate that mother encouraged what has become my life long love of sailing. There is a book that “Reflects on Life and Living” similar to her (and my) philosophy on life. . If you have a chance read FIRST YOU HAVE TO ROW A LITTLE BOAT by Richard Bode.

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