Dorothy “Dot” MacWilliams died Friday, April 17, at Barclay Friends in West Chester, 12 days after testing positive for COVID-19 and 22 days after reaching her 100th birthday.
Dorothy Elizabeth Vogt was born March 26, 1920, the seventh of nine children in a poor but rollicking Scotch-Irish and German family in South Philadelphia. As a young girl she attended services at Snyder Avenue Congregational Church in Philadelphia, where she was one of a group of a dozen girls who founded the “Tip-Toppers” club. Bonds of friendship that endured for more than seventy years were formed, and she remained a member and supported that church for the rest of her life.
Raised amidst hardship during the Great Depression, she left school in the ninth grade to work in a greeting card factory, and, at 21, married Walter “Walt” MacWilliams, a young man from South Philly who had been born into a large, poor Scotch-Irish and German family three days before her. He had caught her fancy when she passed by a local bicycle repair shop and overheard him whistling “The Very Thought of You,” which became their life-long love song.
Walt enlisted in the Navy and was a sailor stationed in Jacksonville, FL during World War II, while Dot tended to their two young daughters, Diane and Bonnie, born a year apart, and, eight years later, a son, Bruce.
In 1960, the family moved from their row house in South Philly to a white clapboard house with a tidy yard in Wenonah, New Jersey, a bucolic one-square-mile town which Dot considered her true home. Walt died suddenly in 1974 at age 54, leaving Dot, who had devoted her entire adult life to being a wife and mother, to figure out her second act as a widow.
Over the next several decades, Dot proved herself to be fiercely independent while having a fun-loving, adventurous streak, traveling to see the pyramids in Egypt, sledding with her grandchildren, and buying a modest but comfortable summer house in Ocean City, NJ that served as a gathering place for her large circle of friends and family for 20 years. Dot loved riding bikes on the boardwalk, taking long walks on the beach, over-indulging her sweet tooth, and sunbathing without sunscreen until her many freckles seemed to blend together.
Back in Wenonah, she spent her time volunteering – sewing bandages (then called “cancer dressings”), shopping for the blind, aiding a physically disabled child in her neighborhood – living simply and frugally on her late husband’s pension. She enjoyed playing cards (sometimes poker, for pennies), watching TV (Lawrence Welk, Phillies baseball), and swimming at the Woodbury YMCA with her lady friends. Dot was also an engaging and faithful pen pal, providing loved ones with a stream of entertaining missives in handwritten letters, and later, when she was in her eighties, by email.
By 2003 she had moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania to live in a mother-in-law suite but was still a Jersey girl at heart, forever loyal to “Jersey tomatoes” and “Jersey corn.” While she outlived her siblings and nearly all of her friends, she derived great pleasure from her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, enjoying the role of matriarch at frequent family events, where her famous “mac & cheese” was a favorite. She remained active, continuing to drive and swimming regularly at ACAC in West Chester well into her nineties.
After suffering a stroke in 2015, she was cared for at home by her daughter and son-in-law until 2018 when she entered Barclay Friends, where she received loving and exceptional nursing care until the time of her death.
She is survived by her three children, Diane MacWilliams, Bonnie Saddic (Ted), and Bruce MacWilliams (Margie), as well as seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Services are postponed due to the pandemic.
Memorial donations may be made to Snyder Avenue Congregational Church, 300 Snyder Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19148 or to Barclay Friends, 700 North Franklin Street, West Chester, PA 19380.