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  • #79 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: Recent Passings

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    Published Date : July 8, 2005
    Before continuing with various Hollywood figures, and before a longer version of my reminiscences of thirty years at NEHGS in the Holiday issue of New England Ancestors (NEA), I wish to pay tribute to several late friends, former Society trustees and/or officers and a former staff member of scholarly distinction. In reverse order of their deaths these are Professor John A. Schutz, Maury A. Bromsen, W. Robert "Bob" Mill, Ethel Farrington Smith, Marshall Kenneth Kirk, and Mrs. Shirley Goodwin Bennett. John, Bob, Ethel, and Shirley were past trustees or officers of the Society; John and Shirley each served for over a decade, and Bob was our treasurer during part of the presidency of Ted Chase. John Schutz, long a professor at the University of Southern California, the major living biographer of Gov. William Shirley of Massachusetts and compiler of a collective biographical reference work on Mass. colonial legislators (his lifetime work, partially fact-checked by Marshall Kirk below), was both Ralph Crandall's major dissertation advisor - and overall lifetime mentor - and head of the Publications Committee during my tenure as director of that department, 1987-96. On Saturdays before every committee meeting John and I had lunch at the upstairs Joe's Restaurant a block away (we almost always both ordered ribs, and shared a hot fudge sundae) and discussed all manner of Society business, from Ralph and Development through book and journal publications, personnel matters, etc. There we often reached agreement on book proposals before they were formally presented. John often joked with the Missing Friends staff, but fully supported the multi-volume, decade-long project, as he strongly supported NEXUS, and the two of us shared a wide-ranging, often academic perspective on the publications program overall. He would frequently dismiss silly ideas and proposals, also a very useful function, and I thought of us as a team.

    Maury Bromsen, long the greatest living collector of South American imprints and a world-class bibliographer, sponsored a distinguished lecture series (a major date on the Boston cultural calendar) in humanistic bibliography at the Boston Public Library. Years ago I helped Maury with some rather complex research and he never failed to invite both Jerry Anderson and me to these events; last year he was happy to let me bring a guest, and he attended both my housewarming party in July 2004 and my retirement seminar and party this October 1. Maury's large Simon Bolivar collection was given to the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, and various South American ambassadors (plus Bill Fowler and I) attended its dedication. On one of my trips to Salt Lake City I found a volume entitled La Genealogía del Liberador. I mentioned it to Maury, who didn't know of it (or of Bolivar's several royal descents from medieval Castilian kings - Bolivar's and Washington's families were of comparable social status in their respective colonies of birth). Maury and I also frequently chatted, often at or outside the bank we both used, on Boston-area literary matters, the Library of Congress, Harvard and Berkeley, etc. In the early 1980s he suggested, when I needed support for a research trip to Chillicothe, Ohio, to trace further the immediate American ancestry of the late Princess of Wales, that I contact the English-Speaking Union here. I did so, and it indeed sponsored the trip, plus lectures at Toledo and Columbus.

    For a while, Bob Mill treated me almost as a third son. The vest I wore in the photograph by Barbara Baylis on the first page of my "Reminiscences" article in the Holiday NEA was a Christmas present, and at a Society book sale he bought me the 30-volume copy I still use of the Dictionary of National Biography. Bob was an investment advisor with Middleton & Co., which long managed our endowment, and was particularly kind at the time of my father's death in 1990 (we both had serious responsibilities for parents, and served to some extent as family executors). Bob was much interested in the English ancestry of his royally-descended forebears, Gov. Thomas Dudley and Percival Lowell, especially as Marshall Kirk's and Douglas Richardson's research into these two matters evolved. Bob also engaged Melinde Sanborn to undertake New Hampshire research on his behalf (I believe he bid on her time at our second Challenge Fund auction in 1987) and also enjoyed working on the Southern plantation ancestry of his wife, the former Harriet Talmadge, of the family of Eugene and Herman (Talmadge) of Georgia. We teased each other considerably about the relative grandeur of Harriet's half-dozen or more Virginia-derived royal descents, compared to his two New Englanders, but as we noted, in terms of both descent and progeny Dudley and Lowell were indeed the "top of the [local] heap." Bob's daughter Margaret Foye Mill, known as Meg, has been a long-time friend and Society volunteer, who proofed my last book and was always eager, after her parents moved to Kennebunkport in the 1990s, to keep her father up-to-date on Dudley and Lowell research and other Society matters she thought would be of interest.

    Ethel Farrington Smith, the Society's first $100,000 donor during the Challenge Fund campaign (1984-87, of a Blanche Clough Farrington Fund for New Hampshire genealogy), was a major Hawkes, Allerton, and Hull, Mass. scholar, the only physics major from Smith I ever met, and a sailor of sufficient experience and recognition to impress naval historian William M. Fowler, our president after Ted Chase. Her Adam Hawkes genealogy, published by Gateway in 1980, was the major source for my coverage of that family in American Ancestors and Cousins of The Princess of Wales (1984). Ethel was quite surprised to hear of Diana's descent from Adam Hawkes, invited me to speak on the subject at the Hawkes Family Association, and was a long-time editor of Hawkes Talks, the first 20 years of which she reprinted at her own expense. Her long-time research into seventeenth-century families of Hull, Massachusetts produced a set of Register articles covering all early settlers in that South Shore Plymouth County town. These articles, with further material by Richard H. Benson, will soon be reissued in book form by the Society. Ethel also contributed to the Allerton volume of the Mayflower Five Generations Project, undertook a small book on colonial American "doctresses," and in her youth was a social worker much involved, I believe, in containing polio outbreaks in the Western states. We too often exchanged quips, and her great flattering remark is one of my favorite Gary stories. When working together at the Society's booth in Columbus, Ohio, at the 1986 NGS Conference, I wondered if I might do something - I forget what - without permission. Her reply was, "You are Gary Boyd Roberts and this is a genealogical conference. You can do anything you please." My reply, perhaps also classic, was "Ethel, it's not that good yet." Ralph Crandall was especially fond of Ethel, who later further contributed our third-floor Trustee room renovation, and he attended her 90th and 95th birthday celebrations in Florida.

    Marshall Kenneth Kirk, a favorite former colleague of the dozen or so staff members who attended his memorial service at Currier House at Harvard this August, possessed very likely the finest logical mind I have ever encountered. His accumulation of arguments to "build a case" for speculative identifications in the near English ancestry of New England immigrants was widely perceived as brilliant, and he published such pieces on the five Winslow brothers and Thomas Bradbury in the Register (the second article is scheduled for 2006) and on John Cotton in the last 1999 issue of The New Hampshire Genealogical Record. His massive research on Gov. Thomas Dudley was used by both Doug Richardson and myself, in respectively Plantagenet Ancestry and The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants (RD600). Marshall also spoke on this line at the 1993 seminar for RD500, and I very much hope that his executors will allow edited publication of this work in the next several years. Marshall was especially pleased by the prospect of an Edward III descent through Katherine Deighton (Dudley's second wife), Dennis and Stradling, and after publication last year of an article in Foundations attempting to refute it, was strong in its defense.

    Marshall was also somewhat internationally known as one of the three or four major American authorities on ancient ancestry (Greece, Rome, Egypt, Persia, Armenia, the Merovingians and Carolingians, etc.) He attended each of the seminars in Calgary, Alberta, Canada sponsored mostly in the early 1990s by former NEHGS Councilor Don Charles Stone of Philadelphia, who advertises his Ancient and Medieval Descents Project in Society publications. These seminars were supposedly centered around the better-known Prof. David Humiston Kelley, but I think Marshall soon became a second leader in these discussions. His in-person and telephone conversations on assorted topics in this field were dazzling, and his lecture on the topic at our 1995 Sesquicentennial Conference elicited wide response and, I believe, is still available on tape. Marshall seems to have stimulated further articles or monographs by David, and some of his conclusions also appear, I think, in Don's work. Marshall was often a very funny colleague - my favorite Marshall story, from his youth, hilariously involves changing hair color - and he both co-wrote After the Ball (1987, which enjoyed a wide press and produced much discussion among civil-rights advocates), and undertook serious research on the testing of intelligence in children. His knowledge of pharmacology was usually greater than that of anyone who treated him, and throughout his life - he died far too young, at age 47 - he was almost obsessively knowledgeable about weather (his brothers report that at age 10 his fellow townsmen in Mechanic Falls, Maine, preferred his forecasts to anything on television).

    Marshall Kirk was, I think, the second scholar who contributed to RD600 and then died within 18 months of its publication. His predecessor in this regard was longtime Society vice-president Shirley Goodwin Bennett. The wife of a leading Exxon executive, she traveled with her husband Jack throughout the world, and elicited the wonderful remark by him that "everywhere I go, my wife has ancestors." Shirley restored a forebear's home in York, Maine, sponsored several years' research by Paul Reed into the English ancestry of William Wentworth of N.H. (plus research by Neil Thompson into such descent for Thomas Jernegan of Va., this last recently published in The Virginia Genealogist). Her real specialty, however, was Scottish lairds - forebears of her husband's Baillie and Mackintosh immigrants to Georgia, and of her Nova Scotia-born matrilineal great-grandfather George Alexander McKay/Mackay, whose mother was a MacLean of Kingairloch, daughter and granddaughter of lairds who immigrated to Pictou, N.S. Shirley several times visited Scotland (I remember her story of meeting Donald Whyte at, I believe, Register House in Edinburgh) and for probably over a dozen years joined the NEHGS tour to Salt Lake City, where she and often Paul would work on the British floor for whole days at a time. Shirley's knowledge of Scottish lairds, lords, and higher nobles in her children's ancestry (at least the genealogical connections of these lairds) was immense, and she contributed to RD600 both the Robert Baillie and G. A. McKay lines mentioned above, plus a very useful "improvement" for the descent of brothers Neil and Allan MacLean (McLean) of Connecticut. Unfortunately Shirley didn't publish in learned journals; she was eager to contribute to my compendium, however, in part to prove to me that at least some Scottish Nova Scotians were of gentry background and royal descent.

    I shall miss Shirley's competence and enlightened sponsorship, Marshall's genius and the experience of listening to almost incredible brainpower at work, Ethel's kindness and encouragement, Bob's friendship and advice, Maury's knowledge and experience, and John's wisdom and conversation (and those ribs and sundaes, which I will continue to enjoy, partly in his memory). It is, of course, sad to lose (mostly) older friends younger than one's parents, but at age 62 such events can perhaps be expected. The cumulative contribution of these recently-passed colleagues to the Society in particular, to Boston intellectual life (Maury especially), and to genealogical or historical scholarship generally is considerable, and worth commemoration.

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