"OUR WOMEN OF SANDWICH"
(2020 Summer Virtual Exhibit)
HENRIETTA CHAPIN GRAY MCBEE
1912 - 2000
Photo taken by Susan Lirakis
Henrietta Chapin Gray grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts in an academic family. Her father, William Gray, taught classical history at Smith College, and her grandfather, Laurenus Clark Seelye, was the college’s first president. After majoring in Italian at Smith, Henrietta attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where she met Burrett McBee, whom she married in 1937.
In 1939, Elizabeth and Guthrie Speers invited Henrietta and Burrett, who was then Guthrie’s assistant at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, to spend a couple of weeks at “Green Pastures,” the Speers’ summer home on Taylor Road. Almost immediately, the young couple began looking for land on Squam, and negotiated with the Rev. Wallace Anderson for an acre and a half on Squaw Cove, which soon acquired the nickname “Preacher’s Cove” for its shoreline of Episcopal and Presbyterian ministers.
After summering every year on Squam, in 1969 the McBees bought a cold-water hunting cabin on Anger Hill, and began transforming it into a year-round residence. When they retired to Center Sandwich in 1978, they were already well-known in the community. Henrietta (“Henny”) was active in the Community Church, including the search committee, the Sunday School, and Bible discussion groups. She and Nixon Bicknell were connoisseurs of hymn tunes, and favored J.S. Bach arrangements for the Sunday service. She also volunteered as a docent at the Historical Society, and often assisted at Wentworth Library. She found time for weaving classes with Roberta and Robert Ayotte; the family still treasures her woven pillows.
Henrietta’s avocation was ministry to others. A good listener, she sensed when a sympathetic ear was needed. In the late 1980s, when a fierce ice storm shut off electricity to most of the village, Louisa Minor invited Henny to stay with her. Louisa joked that Henny tied up her phone line for a week, calling neighbors and friends to check on their welfare.
In 1992, Henrietta moved to Spokesfield Common, then a brand-new outpost of Taylor Home. When Parkinson’s Disease encroached and she had to slow down, a group of friends, led by Marion Blackshear and Susan Davies, organized a care group to provide meals and nursing help. Their model of community care-giving evolved into FOPAK (Friends of Phil and Kathryn) when Phil Simmons and Kathryn Field needed help for Phil’s ALS.
Henrietta shunned public accolades, particularly about herself. She ruled out a eulogy at her own funeral service. So she might not like this virtual tribute to women of Sandwich, insisting that no one should be omitted, especially not treasured friends like Molly Balch, Marian Blackshear, Louisa Minor, Barbara Dobyns, Willa Folch-Pi, Elizabeth Chalmers, Barbara Stockton, Shirley Morton, Dolly Bryant, M.F. Hambrook, Sue Speers, Susan Davies, and many, many more.