Betty Dickinson died peacefully on Sunday, November 7, at her home in Ridgewood, N.J., a few weeks before her 90th birthday. Her husband, Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr., died in 1996.
She was born Mary Elizabeth Harrington on November 30, 1920, in Mansfield, Ohio, to Alfred Irving and Mary Crawford Harrington. A graduate of The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Cal., and Bennington College, she served as a Pharmacist’s Mate, 2nd Class, in the United States Navy during World War II. Stationed at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Honolulu, Mrs. Dickinson vividly recalled seeing the ships at Pearl Harbor set off their artillery in jubilant celebration of V-J Day.
Betty, as her friends and family knew her, relished new experiences. An avid photographer and watercolorist, she traveled to every continent on earth, including a 2008 voyage to Antarctica. She also obtained her private pilot certificate when she was in her fifties, reasoning, “If something happened to your pilot, how dumb would you feel flying around, waiting to run out of gas? It’s so stupid not to be able to do something.”
A competitive sailor and golfer, Mrs. Dickinson won the club championship at Arcola Country Club in 1968 and, later that year, scored a hole-in-one. She and her husband were pictured on the front page of The New York Times in October, 1980, along with other survivors of the burning and sinking of the M/V Prinsendam off the coast of Alaska. After their 14-hour ordeal in a lifeboat ended and all were declared safe, Betty recalled the scene aboard the doomed liner in a telephone interview from Sitka: “It was just like what you’d see in a B-movie. The only person missing was Tallulah Bankhead.”
A former trustee of both Kent School in Kent, Conn., and Bennington College, Betty will be sorely missed by all who knew her great wit and quiet generosity.
She is survived by her daughters Ann B. Dickinson and her husband, Richard Purington, of Ridgewood, N.J., and Tracy H. Dickinson of Park Ridge, N.J.; by her granddaughter, Amanda Turner Phillips, and her husband, Briggs, of Burlington, Vt.; by her grandson David Dickinson Turner of New York; and by her great-grandson Crawford Dickinson Phillips of Burlington. She also leaves a nephew, Peter Strachan, and his wife Linda, and nieces Emily Strachan and Nancy Strachan, and Nancy’s husband, Peter Bland, all of California.
In addition to her husband, Fairleigh S. “Dick” Dickinson Jr., Mrs. Dickinson was predeceased by her son Fairleigh S. “Terry” Dickinson 3rd, by an infant son, James Dickinson, and by her sister, Eleanor “Bunny” Strachan. She was also preceded in death by her beloved cat, the debonair and peripatetic Bucky.
The funeral service was held at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, on Thursday, November 11. Interment at Tower Hill Cemetery was private.
In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate memorial donations to the Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club, P.O. Box 654, Edgartown, MA 02539, or the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, P.O. Box 1310, Edgartown, MA 02539.