A Life of Service
Thelma Babbitt’s life and association with the Harris Center was remembered in an interview with her granddaughter, Peri Chickering:
“She honored all of creation. Her service came from that taproot — from the deepest part of what we’re here, as humans, to bring.”
Thelma lived to the age of 97. The last 32 years of her life were devoted to environmental issues and the Harris Center.
Thelma began making trips to Hancock from Cambridge, MA after she married George Babbitt in 1945. George owned the ca. 1789 Hancock home in which Thelma would spend the latter years of her life. Holidays and vacations were also spent there before George passed away in 1951. After George’s passing, Thelma turned her energies toward working with the American Friends Service Committee, focusing on social justice issues, specifically anti-racism work.
Finding Sanctuary in the Outdoors
Thelma’s work on hotly contested issues prompted her to spend time in nature, which was “neutral ground.” Weekends at the Hancock home were times to rejuvenate.
“The outdoors became a place where the challenges of difficult issues could come to rest. The outdoors became her sanctuary.”
When Thelma retired at the age of 65, she moved to Hancock year-round. Her son Arthur, his wife Joanne, granddaughter Peri, and three other beloved grandchildren from her first marriage to Rowell Chickering were frequent visitors.
“We often spent several weeks in the summers here with her. She loved to canoe. I have very fond memories of paddling around Willard, Nubanusit, and Spoonwood.”
A Fervent Fundraiser
Thelma loved hiking and walking, as well as snowshoeing, and often went out with John Kulish on Harris Center jaunts in the early days. The Harris Center had the good fortune to benefit from Thelma’s service on and off the Board of Trustees for the better part of a quarter-century. She was a notoriously perseverant fundraiser, essentially serving as a volunteer development director.
“If she sat down at your table, good luck in not writing a check! And if you didn’t, she’d come back again. She had the ability to speak authoritatively about the issues — as well as to intimidate you!”
An environmentalist through and through, Thelma consciously lived her values in every aspect of her life. Peri describes her grandmother as incredibly frugal in terms of energy and water usage, and highly conscious of the environmental impact of transporting food.
“I once bought a head of lettuce, and she lectured me at length about how far it had come (from Mexico), and that we should never eat lettuce at that time of year. She definitely walked her talk!”
Protecting the Land
Thelma was also an avid birder. She turned her home into something of a bird sanctuary and protected her land with a conservation easement to ensure that it stayed that way.
“Sitting on her porch each afternoon and listening to the birds singing is one of my favorite memories of my grandmother. She knew every song and would say, ‘Oh there goes the Veery. I love that Chestnut-Sided Warbler!’ You name the bird, she knew the song. These times were truly favorites. On my short visits, many of the songs were not familiar, and at first I could not tell them apart. Now, after 15 years of listening myself, I too know the songs of many birds and learn two or three more each year — the tradition lives on!”
In Thelma’s final years, Neal Clark, Eleanor Cappa, and other friends and family members checked in on Thelma to help her out. In 2003, Peri took her grandmother to the dedication of the Harris Center’s new Babbitt Room — a beautiful post-and-beam octagonal function room, named for Thelma in honor of her tireless dedication to the Harris Center and the environment. In 2004, Thelma hurt her hip and died peacefully at home within the week. She died the way she lived: fully engaged and vibrant to the end.
“My grandmother was a highly principled woman who took her life seriously. She never took anything for granted and went by the maxim, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’ She was a strong, fearless woman who had plenty to say about anything she cared about.”
Thelma’s legacy lives on in so many ways, right at the heart of the Harris Center.
Thelma taking flying lessons in her twenties.
Thelma in 1956.
Thelma and beloved little ones.
For more information on the Harris Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations, please contact Lisa Murray at (603) 525-3394 or by email.