Centenarian Dorthy Raymond: Don't Be Afraid To Try Something New

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Aging

Dorothy Raymond and her brother, Robert, during World War II. COURTESY PHOTO

Tacked to the wall of Dorothy Raymond’s apartment is a large banner titled “Back in 1922.” In 1922, we learn, a first-class stamp cost two cents and a gallon of gas 25 cents. President Warren G. Harding introduced the first radio to the White House in 1922.

The actresses Betty White and Judy Garland were born in 1922. And so was Dorothy, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Oct. 30 with a breakfast out followed by a surprise party in Maplewood at Brewster. As her family and friends looked on, she blew out five tall thin candles decorating a cake with white frosting. This afternoon Dorothy sits at a table in her apartment next to the banner and behind a bank of birthday cards and a vase of cut flowers.

Dorothy was born in Worcester and grew up in Auburn, the oldest of three children. Her mother died after giving birth to her youngest brother, Richard, when Dorothy was just eight.

“We had a baby who was taken care of by other family members,” Dorothy says. When he turned four, the baby came home to join his father and older siblings.

After she graduated from high school, Dorothy, who aspired to college, instead went to work in the home office of State Mutual Life Assurance Company in Worcester. By then the Great Depression was segueing into the war years. When Dorothy’s brother Robert, her junior by about 18 months, enlisted in the Army Air Corps, Dorothy decided she would enlist in the armed forces, too. Robert eventually flew 35 missions in B-17s, dropping bombs over mainly industrial targets in Germany.

The WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) were a division of the Navy created in July 1942, and to join, if you were not yet of age, you had to ask a parent’s permission.

“It took a great deal of courage to ask him,” Dorothy says of her father. Her father was employed as an electrical engineer working 12-hour days in Crompton and Knowles, a firm that manufactured looms used to make wartime uniform cloth. Dorothy’s decision was made more poignant because she realized that she would be leaving her father with a young child to care for in wartime.

“I was feeling guilty about leaving him with a small child, yet I was so patriotic,” she recalls.

So off she went, with the ambition of learning about aviation mechanics. Instead, she was sent to a Naval Air station in Pensacola, Fla. where she mastered the techniques of aerial gunnery. She recalls taking apart guns and putting them back together. After that, she was sent to Hawaii and San Diego to teach young flyers in classrooms outfitted with mockups of airplanes. Among other duties, the instructors had to teach the pilots to differentiate Japanese airplanes from American airplanes.

She was the youngest woman in her group of four, and the only one who had not yet attended college.

“We decided we would keep very low-key profiles — not cause any problems,” she says. “We were very quiet. We were not aggressive. We kept to ourselves.” And how did the men take to their young female instructors? The male students loved rigging “boobytraps” such as bottles of water set on top of doors that would drop on the unsuspecting woman who opened the door.

In San Diego, the WAVES worked in a skeet shooting range, and on weekends male movie stars came down from Hollywood to practice their shooting.

“We spent time in a little hut to put the targets up. We could not approach them [the actors] for autographs,” she remembers with a laugh.

After the war ended, Dorothy entered Boston University and studied business administration. It was September 1946. Her father had died earlier in the year, and Dorothy was her teenage brother’s legal guardian.

“I lived at home and commuted until we got him into a prep school,” she says. It was a two-hour commute via bus to her 9 a.m. class. In addition, she was employed at MIT in the afternoons and evenings as a bookkeeper in the fundraising office. After doing graduate work for a master’s degree, she was still working at MIT when she began applying to airlines. At that time TWA, founded in 1930, had begun flying into Boston. She worked for TWA for 35 years, retiring in 1985.

In 1966 Dorothy bought her cousin’s house in West Chatham. In 2018 she moved to Chatham full-time. Her brother Robert had bought land across the street from her, moving there in 1998, and now the two siblings were neighbors.

In May 2015 Dorothy and Robert attended the dedication of Chatham’s new World War II memorial. And in April 2017 they visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. through the Honor Flight program. 

In March of this year Dorothy had a serious fall outdoors after a night without heat in her home, and moved to Maplewood.

Now that she has turned 100, does she have advice for other aspiring centenarians?

“I don’t know how it happened,” she says. She notes that her mother died at age 39, and her father at 61. Her brother Robert died last April, and their brother Richard in 2009. While she says she has led a “conventional life,” she adds, “I was not afraid to try something new, something different.”