A Life: Kate Guest, 1918-2019; ‘she was the best at everything she did’

  • A boatload of Hanover, N.H., police officers challenges an icebergload of people who followed a whim down the Connecticut River on April 1, 1984. (Valley News - Dan Hunting) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News File Photo — Dan Hunting

  • Kate Guest in the early 1940s with her dog, Peter. (Courtesy of Jill Guest Remick) Courtesy of Jill Guest Remick

  • From left, Kate and Jake Guest and Woody Rothe paddle down the Connecticut River on April 1, 1984, with a couple of folding chairs, paddles and a bottle of champagne. Their trip was cut short by the Hanover Police. (Valley News - Dan Hunting) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Dan Hunting

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2019 9:57:38 PM
Modified: 4/15/2019 12:51:16 PM

HANOVER — Kate Guest adored her family and the outdoors and combined them in offbeat fashion on April Fools Day, 1984.

Guest, then 65, along with her 40-year old son Jake and his 43-year old friend, Woody Rothe, pried a 2-foot thick ice floe from the Connecticut River’s bank in Hanover, hopped aboard and floated slowly toward the Ledyard Bridge.

As the trio drifted closer to the span, however, they drew the attention of motorists on Route 5, who stopped and shouted, wondering if help was needed. No, thanks, the voyagers replied, but someone must have called in an emergency because the police eventually arrived. After first hailing the makeshift craft via bullhorn, the cops launched a boat packed with officers that motored out to the floe.

“They told us we had to get off and mom demanded to know what we were doing that was illegal,” Jake Guest recalled, noting that he’d brought two chairs, some paddles and a bottle of Chianti for the trip. “Eventually, they came up with ‘causing a public alarm’ and we paddled to shore.”

Guest, who died at 100 in February, was a true New Englander. She was born in 1918 in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and lived in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire. After working at the shipyard in Portland, Maine, and as a librarian, she married and raised four boys, Jake, John, Greg and Peter, along with excelling at hiking, skiing and golf.

“She was 100 before she would take the elevator,” said Brian Guest, one of her eight grandchildren.

Kate Hay’s love of the outdoors blossomed as she grew up overlooking a channel into Portland Bay. A little south of Portland’s city center, the Cragmoor neighborhood ended in roughly 200 feet of trees and bushes leading to a steep cliff and a rocky beach below. Out in the water, on a reef near Cushing Island, stood the Ram’s Island Lighthouse, the revolving beams of which struck the Hays’ house at regular intervals.

There were only a few families in Cragmoor at the time, according to Guest’s memoirs, and she was the youngest of roughly a dozen children who shared each other’s yards, houses and the beach. She grew to be 6 feet, tall for women of her time.

“Low tide revealed rock weed and barnacle-covered rocks and tidal pools where we found snails, sea urchins, crabs, limpets and starfish,” Guest wrote. “We celebrated the Fourth of July on the beach with salmon, fresh peas and strawberry shortcake, followed by sky rocks and Roman candles.”

Said Jake Guest: “She grew up around a pretty aristocratic crowd of New England families, people who were quite wealthy. But my grandfather (Willis Hay) was on the lower end of that.”

Her mother, Mildred, a 1901 graduate of Smith College, died when her daughter was 15. Kate graduated from her mother’s alma mater in 1940 and began work as a secretary in the Portland shipyard in 1942. She recently had adopted a cocker spaniel mix she named Peter, and the dog followed her the two miles from Cape Elizabeth to her new job.

Peter regularly snuck into his owner’s office in the Department of Personnel Morale and would then wander throughout the shipyard. After about a month, he was issued his own employee pin, complete with photo identification, which was pinned to his collar. Kate later named her fourth son Peter, after the dog.

Kate was married to naval officer and Amherst College graduate Bob Guest in 1942. The couple lived in Georgia and Rhode Island before settling in Milford, Conn., while Bob conducted academic research at Yale en route to becoming a labor sociologist. The parents of a growing family bought a house not far from Long Island Sound but in a neighborhood Jake Guest described as “lower class to poor.”

Despite having her hands full with her own children, Guest maintained an open-door policy for other neighborhood youngsters, many of whom Jake Guest remembers as coming from single-parent homes rife with domestic violence and substance abuse. He sometimes resented his mother’s largesse but later came to appreciate her impact on kids short of attention and love.

On weekends, Guest might pack as many as eight kids into the family car and head for the Bronx Zoo, the Statue of Liberty or a state park. She earned local renown as a Cub Scout den mother, guiding her down-at-the-heels gang to victory during a Halloween costume contest before which she and the boys had toiled for hours over their costumes. It wasn’t uncommon for kids to attend meetings with only a Scouts hat or neckerchief, their families unable to scrape money together for a shirt and belt.

“Later on, some of them became rough characters, what we called hoods,” Jake Guest said. “They’d be hanging out with their hot rods and their black chinos and smoking Luckys. But when she walked by, these guys melted into the kids they had been with her. It was amazing.”

The Guests moved to Hanover in 1960 when Bob became a professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. They settled into a house near Mink Brook and easily became part of the town’s social fabric, entertaining not only their boys’ school friends, but Bob’s colleagues and Dartmouth and exchange students. She made sure she and her family stayed active.

“She dragged us up every (darn) mountain in New England,” Jake Guest said with a laugh. “She’d pack us and some lunches up and off we’d go, if sometimes reluctantly.”

Guest was a Hanover Country Club golf champion often enough that she sometimes sat out the competition in order to let others claim the title. She was a founding member of the “Granite Grannies,” a group of older women who hiked each of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks with the exception of Mount Isolation. Jake Guest said he’s considering scattering some of his mother’s ashes there so she can posthumously complete the journey.

The Guest house on Barrett Road was a hub of activity. The boys brought packs of friends over, not just while in school, but later, when three of the four were living in communes. Only Peter, the youngest, earned a college degree, but their mother valued free thinking and varying points of view.

“My brothers’ friends really liked her a lot,” said Peter Guest, who wrote in the forward to his mother’s memoirs that he never saw her cry in despair or shout in anger. “A lot of them came from broken homes, so we always had kids at the house. Then their friends would bring five more friends over.”

An accomplished cook, Kate Guest adapted on the fly to the number of diners at her table. She did some work as a librarian, ran the Ford Sayre ski program for a few years and was involved in the annual Five College Book Sale, which raises money for charity.

In 1983, Bob Guest, who had tacked on work in the New Hampshire Legislature, was invited to lecture at Japan’s University of Hokkaido. During the trip, he and Kate participated in a recreational cross-country ski race featuring nearly 700 people. Bob bowed out at the midpoint, but Kate continued on and finished to cheers from residents of Ashikawa, a ski and hot springs resort in the mountains.

Skiing of all sorts was a lifelong passion for Guest, who started in the early 1920s wearing bloomers and long wool socks knitted for her by her mother. There were no tow ropes and skiers used a single toe strap, rarely varying from a straight, downward path, because twisting and turning tended to pop the skis loose.

She eventually added circular strips cut from a tire’s inner tube, which improved the foot-ski connection. During the 1940s, she skied the famous headwall of Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington, only about a decade after it was first done.

In her later years, Guest enjoyed volunteering at the Montshire Museum, gardening and playing a mean hand of bridge. Toward the end of Guest’s life, her short-term memory faded, but she was still somehow an ace at cards.

“She was incredibly dignified and incredibly warm and set the bar really high for intellect and conversation and manners,” said granddaughter Jill Guest Remick, who was among the more than 70 guests at Kate’s 100th birthday party late last year. “She was the best at everything she did.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

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