Dorothy Barclay Thompson, 1918-2009

dot back jacket photoMy step-grandmother, Dorothy Barclay Thompson, died in New York City last Thursday, the 10th.

Dorothy Barclay, known to her family as Dot, was born March 12, 1918, also in New York, to George Barclay and the former Edith Roblin. George was a longtime writer for the Business section of The New York Times; Edith, a music teacher. Dot had one older sister, Charlotte Barclay, who died in 1998.

Dot attended New York City schools, and moved with her family to Florida in 1931 when her father left The Times. She went to high school in Miami, and graduated from Florida State University in 1938. While at Florida State, she was named Managing Editor of the student newspaper, The Florida Flambeau, for the 1937-38 academic year.

After work on other Florida newspapers, she joined the women’s news department of The New York Times in 1942. In 1949, she was made Parent and Child Editor of The Times. She had at least two syndicated features during the 1950s, “Shopper’s Corner” and “In the Family,” which ran as far afield as Bingen, WA and Kendrick, ID.

She married my grandfather, Stephen G. Thompson, in 1950. The article in The Times which announced this ran on July 2, and was headlined, “Miss Barclay Married” — as if regular readers of The Times would instantly recognize who “Miss Barclay” was. My grandfather was Realty Editor of The New York Herald-Tribune at the time, so one could say it was a mixed marriage.

At roughly this time, Dot served as a member of the Home Economics Council of the Board of Regents, University of the State of New York.

understanding the city childIn 1959 her only book, Understanding the City Child, was published by Franklin Watts of New York. It would later be reprinted by Collier.

In 1964 she was given an Honorary Doctorate by her alma mater, Florida State.

The “Guide to Job Placement of the Mentally Restored,” a 41 page booklet written by Dot and published by The President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, was published in 1965.

In 1965 my grandfather became VP for Public Relations at the American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers, which is based in Chicago. Dot left The Times and turned freelance, with writing credits in glossies such as Vogue. After he died in 1973, Dot returned to NY, living at the Barbizon Hotel.

She continues to be cited up to the present day. A search on “dorothy barclay” “new york times” on Google Scholar yields five pages of results, primarily because many researchers looking into contemporary accounts of 1950s attitudes on parenting and children consult The Times, and run squarely across her work.

She died of complications due to pneumonia. She is survived by her seven stepchildren and their own many children, myself among them.

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OK, that’s the official-ish obit.

My own memories:

* I had gone with my parents, who were high school teachers, to Expo 67 on a large multi-day field trip the school had arranged. In the summer of 1968 we went back, and the fair had wound down to only the limited exhibition, “Man and His World.” Dad didn’t think too much of that, and with the summer before us, he decided to take us car camping on a circle route around the Great Lakes. One highlight of that trip was visiting Grandpa and Dot at their apartment in Chicago, which was near Lake Michigan between the John Hancock Center and Lincoln Park. I remember being able to walk north to the park, across Lake Shore Dr to the beach, etc.

whale tooth carving* During those years in Chicago, Grandpa and Dot traveled a lot, to places like the Alaska Panhandle and Moscow. Here you see a whale tooth carving Dot brought me from one of those trips. I remember a lot of pictures of them on Red Square, in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, etc.

* It must’ve been 1971 that Grandpa arranged to fly my mother and me out to California for Christmas. Even though I knew something was in the works, Mom had managed to keep our destination from me, mostly by use of Poe’s “Purloined Letter” technique: She told me we were going to California. Dad had just died and I knew things were tight, so this was obvious nonsense. When we got off the plane at SFO, Grandpa and Dot were there to meet us. There used to be a picture, taken in black and white, of a small me looking at the photographer mouth agape, because while I may have recognized them that part had been kept as a surprise.

* Dot was always supportive of my efforts at writing, both poetry and prose. There was something I wrote about my uncle Paul’s wedding, “Camouflage Pants,” that she thought was particularly successful.

I miss her a lot, and am very regretful I squandered my chances to talk to her more often.

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dot's little princeUPDATED TO ADD: Turns out Dot knew Saint-Exupéry. From Saint-Exupéry: a biography by Stacy Schiff: “Barclay had earned Saint-Exupéry’s gratitude for having researched a question crucial to him in the writing of the book: How many stars were in the sky?” Dot called the Hayden Planetarium on his behalf.

Schiff includes in the book a photo of the inscription Saint-Exupéry made in Dot’s copy of Le Petit Prince:

The Prince says, in a balloon, “Il faut etre absolument fou pour avoir choisi cette planete-la! Elle n’est sympathique que la nuit, quand les habitants dorment.” (“You have to be absolutely crazy to have chosen that planet! It is nice at night when people are asleep.”)

Beneath the Prince it says, “Le Petit Prince avait tort. Il y a sur la terre des habitants dont la droiture, la gentillesse, la generosite de coeur consolent de l’avarice et de l’egoisme des autres. Par exemple Dorothy Barclay … Avec mon plus amical souvenir, Antoine de Saint Exupéry” (“The Little Prince was wrong. It is the land of people who have honesty, kindness, generosity of heart, and console one from the avarice and selfishness of others. For example, Dorothy Barclay … With my most friendly remembrance, Antoine de Saint Exupéry”)