Today we lost an amazing woman, Dorothy Seratt McMullin. Dorothy was truly unique. Dorothy passed away today, November 4th, in Arizona. Services are pending.
Dorothy was the first woman I met whose bluntness was offsetting and endearing at the same time. I was fascinated at how Dorothy could say something out of left field leaving me in shock and awe (and often the first response of “what the hell”) which would soften and mellow down to a simple statement: we (never I or you) WE NEED to do something about this. It wasn’t think about this, let’s brainstorm about doing this, it was WE NEED to do this. I had seen Dorothy quietly discuss an issue she felt was important and necessary, and I had talked with Dorothy when she was very, very empathetic about something. The one thing that I learned as part of the Route 66 Association of Illinois Preservation Committee was to LISTEN and THINK. Not about us. It’s not about our feelings about this. This is a simple statement of principle over personality. Over and over she literally beat me over the head with this simple rule: It isn’t personal, it’s not a criticism, this is a necessary project that is for the future. Not about you, not about me. It’s discerning what is important and making sure you do everything to make that project happen. No excuses, no procrastination.
Dorothy would follow up, and follow up, and be that quiet voice in my ear…“What are you doing about this?” Sometimes it came close to stalking, or “ear abuse,” maybe even semi-nagging, but it was never personal. It was important that WE DO SOMETHING NOW to save it for history. No glory just a lot of networking, going outside of our self-imposed limits as to what WE can do. I was lucky because both the late Lenore Weiss and Dorothy Seratt McMullen took their energy and taught me to put personalities aside and focus on preserving something for tomorrow. They taught me to watch and observe the people involved, but to keep focused on what was important. I may not make it to that particular “tomorrow” we were working on, but I would have tried. I learned how to step out of my comfort zone and (some of you will laugh at this) my shyness. Never thought of myself as a spotlight person, always a back-up singer making someone or something else look good. Dorothy was like a 2nd conscience, a poke in the ribs at times, a voice reminding me to get back on track and that we don’t have as much time as we think to save our historic jewels before they are gone.
Dorothy made the words audacity and tenacity a living part of my vocabulary.
I often talk about how I wish I had more videos of Ernie Edwards recalling his stories and his memories. With Dorothy if I had a video of her talking I would turn it into a holograph so she would be part of all future preservation and be known to up and coming Preservationists. That still small, but persistent, voice in the middle of the night, “So what are WE going to do about this?”
Dorothy was a widow, mother, grandmother. She taught convicts education in hard core prisons. Dorothy loved to gamble, she wrote lyrics to country western songs, she loved music. Dorothy bought a small RV and traveled with her cat. Dorothy was rehabbing a house in Joliet before she moved in with her daughter in Arizona. Dorothy wrote published papers that are used nationwide for projects that need to get on the National Register. Dorothy never took sole credit – it was always published with the names of everyone who worked with her.
Today, my brain is ringing with Dorothy’s “What are we going to do about it?”
Well, Dorothy, right now I’m going to have a deep, primal cry because you are gone. Then I’m going to laugh about what St. Peter is going thru at the pearly gates. I don’t know if Heaven Is ready for Dorothy.
As I look over my stack of “Dorothy” inspired Route 66 projects I feel you poking me in the ribs.
“I’m on it Dorothy, I’m on it.”
Past President of the Route 66 Association of Illinois (2007-2023)