Dorothy Harrington was "an expert in all things Salem."
Lifestyle, News

An appreciation: Dorothy Harrington left her own mark

BEVERLY — Dorothy (Leahy) Harrington died from colon cancer at her home in Beverly, on Feb. 24. 

Born Sept. 24, 1937, in Danvers, Dottie Leahy would make both an immediate and lasting impact on the world. There was an 11-year difference between Dot and her only sibling, Richard, and, according to Dot, her parents "never really knew what to make of me." She was an empathic, often exuberant, person for whom life was often an adventure — or a comedy. 

Dot grew up in North Salem, remaining an expert in all things Salem. She frequented the city's basketball and tennis courts, often preferring to play with the boys. 

Sports and physical activity remained a big part of Dot's life until health issues curtailed those activities in recent years. “The Pit” at McGlew Park featured prominently in Dot's early life, as did Greenlawn Cemetery, which was basically in her backyard and where her father worked as a groundskeeper. 

Despite living across the street, Dot was late to the Pickering School most days. On her first day, she noted that the kindergarten teacher in the other classroom seemed to be the younger and potentially more amusing choice, and so she simply moved her chair to where the action was. Indeed, often Dot's mere presence defined where the action was.

Dottie met the young Michael J. Harrington at a St. John's Prep football dance when she was a Salem High School freshman. Michael remembers spending the next several years "chasing her around North Salem.” 

They married in 1959 and headed to Nantucket for their honeymoon with neither a plane nor a hotel reservation. They were married for 62 years and together for 69. 

Dot loved telling stories and all who knew and loved her, especially her husband and children, already miss hearing those tales, including when she received a "merry widow — WHAT IS A MERRY WIDOW?" as a wedding gift; when she was fired after getting engaged; when her son Keith got “stuck” on the beach wall, and when she almost was fired from her volunteer job at Salem Hospital. There are many, many more. 

A character in the best sense, she was a master of malapropisms, which were hilarious and often repeated. She loved to laugh, often at herself, and had an infectious, more than slightly offbeat, sense of humor. 

Dot was widely viewed as her husband's best political asset and he often noted (correctly!) that people preferred her to him. 

The mother of five children, she was, in the parlance of the day, a "housewife” when her children were growing up. That was a misnomer, though, as she was rarely homeless, as her son Michael can attest. 

She could often be found either on a tennis court or a golf course, the setting for some of her most enduring friendships, or caring for her own mother and other family members, including Aunt Mary and Elliott. 

Dot's physical decline and her loss of the ability to play sports was a difficult transition for her. She frequently noted that she "hated aging." Even absent athletics, though, the friendships continued. 

Dot was a charter member (though never an officer!) of "The Book Club," comprised of friends spanning much of her adult lifetime. She was an active participant even through its most recent meeting, though memory issues made reading the book impossible. (Reading the book, however, per Dot was never a requirement for attendance.) 

During the last several years of her life, Dot dealt with multiple health challenges, including back issues and cognitive decline. 

She was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in September 2021, chose to forgo palliative chemotherapy and spent the months after her diagnosis in relative comfort and in the company of family and friends. 

She and her family were blessed with remarkable caregivers, including Marie Nies, Angela Willoughby, Care Dimensions and Aberdeen, which allowed her to stay at home during her illness and provided unforgettable love and support to Dot and her family. 

In Dot's memory, the family encourages everyone to have regular colonoscopies. Donations in her name can be made to Beverly Bootstraps, St. Jude Children's Hospital or the Friends of the Salem Common. 

David M. Shribman, a Swampscott High School Class of 1972 member, and Pulitzer Prize-winning former executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, contributed to this obituary.

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