By Dot Bergin
Although she celebrated her 90th birthday on April 4 and loves to talk about “the old days” in Bedford, there is no one more forward looking than Doris (“Mickey”) Webber.
She’s in the audience at all the high school and middle school musicals and loves to visit the Lane School for the annual Talent Show. Keeping up with the young people of Bedford is one of her major interests. For many years, Mickey ran a licensed day care center at her former home on Fletcher Road and as she proudly points out, 149 children were in her care at various times over the years. As a result, she is a frequent honored guest at graduations, marriages, and family celebrations of “her” kids, as she calls them. When she retired from day-care in 1997, there was an enormous celebration arranged by her former kids, now grown and many with children of their own. And yes, Mickey continues to follow the second generation of those she cared for and is now a godmother to five children. Although many of the second generation have moved away from Bedford, she keeps in touch by letter (no email, thank you!) and has much pleasure from her contacts with those scattered around the country. Her favorite wedding gift: the Bedford plate, commissioned by the Historical Society. On the day we talked, there was a plate wrapped and ready to mail to a soon-to-be-married couple. And an entire wall of her cozy Maple Street kitchen is filled with photos of her day-care kids.
One recent morning The Citizen sat with Mickey in her light-filled kitchen, alternately chatting and watching the birds and squirrels out her window. The story of how a 20-year-old woman from Pennington, NJ ended up in Bedford is a tale in itself. Had it not been for a change of orders from the Nurse Cadet Corps, Mickey might well have become the revered elder citizen of a New Mexico town. Training in the Nurse Cadet Corps (at Abington Hospital in Pennsylvania) required a “payback” period of work for the federal government. Mickey’s original destination was the southwest, much to the dismay of her parents who thought it too far away. Luckily, her orders were changed at the last minute and she was assigned to the VA Hospital in Bedford. As she tells it, she arrived at the train station in Boston and asked when the next train was for Bedford. “Oh, you mean NEW Bedford,” the ticket agent said. (Remember at that time Bedford was a small village of some 3,000.) And even though Mickey explained it was a town between Lexington and Concord, the agent was adamant. In desperation, she called her father who instructed her to take a taxi and he would pay. Thus, for a $95 fare, she finally arrived at the hospital, only to be greeted by a cranky matron who scolded her for arriving hours late. The story had a happy ending: at the VA Hospital, she met her husband to be, Reed Webber. They were married in 1949 and raised three sons. Mickey now looks back fondly on 70 years of town history.
To say Mickey Webber has left an indelible mark on the town is something of an understatement. In acknowledgment of her many contributions, the town named her Citizen of the Year in 1995. Reviewing her role as a “founding member” encompasses many of the major organizations in town, both past and current. In the early 1950s, as Bedford’s population was growing rapidly, Mickey’s activities included the Bedford Woman‘s Community Club (where hats and gloves were de rigueur), the League of Women Voters, and various clubs associated with her membership in the Congregational Church—the Ball and Chain Club, Couples Club, and youth groups—that she organized and led. With some nostalgia, she noted that changing demographics, the growing number of working wives and mothers, and general societal shifts have all contributed to the demise of these once-important organizations. (The League of Women Voters still exists but is only occasionally active today.) Not all are passé, however. Some of the events she founded are hallowed traditions today, including the upcoming Fawn Lake Easter Sunrise Service, which she began with her good friends, the late Peg and Charlie Schwerin.
One of Mickey’s strongest associations has been—and still is—with Emerson Hospital. She worked there for many years as a member of the nursing staff and she helped found the Emerson Auxiliary, at the request of the long-time hospital administrator Elmina Snow. As a lifetime Auxiliary member, she regularly attends the Annual meeting of that group and has given many hours to help make the Auxiliary a vital part of the Emerson experience. Mickey also served for 20 years as an Emerson Hospital Corporator, representing Bedford as an ambassador to the hospital.
Town government and civic engagement have always played a key part in Mickey’s life. She faithfully places her “Vote” sign on her lawn before each election. She isn’t telling you how to vote, but the act of taking part in local, state, and federal elections is very important to her. As is Town Meeting, which she attends without fail. Mickey recalls her first Town Meeting, to which she was “commanded” to attend by her mother-in-law, the late Ruth Webber. For many years, Ruth was Bedford’s Town Clerk and Town Treasurer. For a New Jersey-bred woman, who knew nothing of the town meeting style of government, it was a revelation. Mickey recalls the Moderator at one point sternly ordering the town constable to remove an unruly, disruptive citizen from the hall! She agrees that our Town Meetings today are conducted in a much more orderly, efficient fashion. Looking back, she has rarely missed a town meeting.
Aside from her public persona, Mickey has had, over the years, a profound effect on many lives in town. She has quietly, and without any desire for recognition, offered her caregiving services to many in need, at both ends of the life spectrum. For this reporter, personally, she provided care and comfort after the birth of two children—as she did for many of her friends with newborns. Until quite recently, she was on-call from Carleton-Willard Village to sit in the evenings with residents whose lives were drawing to a close, bringing comfort to those who otherwise might be alone in their final hours.
Although she is very much a 21st-century woman, Mickey is quick to say she doesn’t care for technology that gets in the way of personal communication. She is a tireless note-writer; if you have received one of her handwritten notes of congratulation or of sympathy, you know how graceful and intimate those notes can be. Although her sons urge email upon her, she resolutely refuses to use a computer, although she will concede to owning a cell phone, if she remembers to keep it charged!
When talking with someone who has lived in Bedford for 70 years, it’s tempting to engage in nostalgia for the old days and old ways. Although Mickey is deeply interested in the history of our town and has some concerns about current trends in housing, she is more than enthusiastic about the new shopping areas. As she says, in those good old days, there was only a handful of small shops across from the Common and you had to go out of town for almost everything you wanted to buy. Now you can do all your shopping here and support local businesses. That’s a plus for this nonagenarian!