A Life: Beverly Kidder Strout, ‘A Woman for All People and All Seasons’

  • Wedding March 1959 of Earl Strout and Beverly Kidder taken at the Congregational Church in Amherst, Mass. Family Photograph

  • Beverly and Earl Strout the summer of 2016 at camp, Bunganut Pond, Alfred ME. Family photograph

Valley News Correspondent
Sunday, August 05, 2018

Lyme — Beverly Strout’s home on the Lyme Common was for decades a hub of civic life in Lyme.

It held the myriad banners she made advertising church suppers and other events; doubled as a sheet-music library for the town band, which she revived with her husband, Earl; and for a time housed a doll-repair business Strout ran.

“If people needed something and they were going to have an event on the common, oftentimes Bev helped them store stuff in her garage, or she’d be right out in her front yard helping do whatever needed to be done,” friend Nancy Grandine said.

Strout died on Jan. 29, 2018, of cancer at 81, yet even as her illness progressed, she maintained a calm, gracious attitude.

“She was a lesson in how to be a good patient,” daughter Tracy Flickinger said. “If you did something for her, she would take you by the hand and look you in the eye and just say, ‘Thank you.’ ”

Beverly and Earl moved to Lyme in 1975 with three daughters in tow: Tracy, Karen, and Robin.

They previously had lived in Sanford and Lewiston, Maine; Barre, Vt.; and Plainville and Easton, Conn. They usually spent four years in a town, then continued on. Lyme was to be no different. But then Earl’s company, the retail chain W. T. Grant, went bankrupt.

“As we unpacked, Grant’s went belly-up,” Earl said in an interview last month in his living room. “I remember calling Bev and saying, ‘Gosh, we’re really closing,’ and she said, ‘Don’t worry about it; just come home. When you come home we’ll talk about it.’ ”

The couple remained in town, joining the Lyme Congregational Church and befriending their neighbors. They became especially close with Darlene and Jeff Lehmann and Judy and Garry Thrasher. They played bridge and tennis together, and even made several collective trips abroad.

Darlene Lehmann remembers fondly the time they visited Scotland.

“At a B&B we stayed in, the three couples that evening we went into town and had a few rounds of, I don’t know if it was wine or beer,” she said. “Anyway, we sent the men forward to go back to the B&B and said we’d follow. Well, Judy, Bev, and I linked arms and we sang the whole way. It was ‘Doe! A deer’ or some silly song like that.”

Lehmann also recruited Strout to be her tennis partner. With her long legs and agile movement, the student soon overtook her teacher.

“She was athletic, doggone it,” Lehmann said. “In about six months she was far superior to me. She could do most anything.”

Foremost among Strout’s pastimes may have been crafts. She collected scores of glass cruet tops and arranged them on the windowsills of her living room, and she carved intricate nativity scenes into gourds Earl harvested and dried. Together, the couple ran the gift wholesaler Green Mountain Studios and traveled as far as Hong Kong to scout goods.

Earl had bought the company in 1976 from the Miller family in Hartford.

In addition to their travels to Europe and Asia, the couple made regular pilgrimages to a family lake house in Ontario, then, later in life, to a cabin in southern Maine. But the Strouts were just as happy at home.

“Traveling is interesting, but it wasn’t necessary,” Earl said. “Coming back to Lyme was just as rewarding as going to Maine.”

It was in Maine, at a shelter in Kennebunkport, that they acquired their dog, Marty, who kept Beverly company in her final weeks as she completed sudoku and crossword puzzles on the couch. She generally made quick work of them.

“She could do the Sunday crossword puzzle on Sunday,” her daughter Tracy, who also lives in Lyme, said. “I still have every one of Sunday’s crossword puzzles in a wad, and I keep going back to them and I haven’t been able to finish any of them.”

Strout’s humility belied her intelligence. The daughter of an Amherst College professor, she majored in English at the University of Vermont and became a go-to source for questions of spelling and grammar.

“At family gatherings everyone would be, ‘Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah,’ and Mom would just sort of take it all in, and all of a sudden she’d say something and the room would stop to listen,” Tracy said, and “it would be absolutely right on target, and it would be the culmination of what everybody had been talking about.”

Strout’s quiet intensity at times struck fear into her children, who learned to interpret her silence as a sign of disapproval.

“You knew when you did something wrong because Mom would be silent, and that was terrifying,” Tracy said. “We never, ever wanted to disappoint her.”

Earl, sitting across the room, assented. “As a husband I didn’t want to either,” he said. “And if I did disappoint her, I’d say ‘Oh,’ and quickly make amends.”

Those discordant moments were the exception to the rule, Earl said. Their 58-year marriage often was collaborative and never acrimonious, and critically, he said, they reserved space for themselves as individuals.

“We did a lot of those things together, but we also had our own projects,” he said. “So whereas we enjoyed being together, we didn’t really depend on each other for that fulfillment. So I think that balance was important.”

In recent months Lyme has honored Strout with a church-sponsored talent show and a tribute from the town band, in which she long played saxophone. But Strout herself, who made a habit of putting the community first, might have found the attention misplaced.

“I know she’d say, ‘Oh my God, enough is enough. I mean, come on already,’ ” Tracy said.

To Grandine, who met Strout soon after moving to Lyme in 1979, her friend’s character — composed of love and selflessness and enthusiasm — was hard to pigeonhole: “She was a woman for all people and all seasons.”