A Life: Mary M. Dalton, 1920-2018; ‘She was always doing for others’

  • Just before voters arrive for lunch, Fran Cady, left, and Mary Dalton say hello in West Windsor, Vt., on March 4, 2014. Both had been helping with lunch that the Brownsville Community Church serves on Town Meeting day. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mary Dalton in a 1945 wedding portrait — for the next 50 years, Mary and Albert Dalton were constantly on the move. They lived in the Philippines and Singapore, along with numerous U.S. states. (Family photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2019

WEST WINDSOR — Well into her 90s, Mary Dalton was delivering meals to shut-ins, driving seniors to medical appointments and organizing fundraisers at her church to buy jars of coffee for indigent prison inmates at Christmastime.

“She was always doing for others,” said Dave Shuffleburg, who met Dalton 25 years ago when she began attending St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Springfield, Vt. “Everybody looked up to her.”

Dalton died Nov. 21 at Cedar Hill, an assisted living community in Windsor. She was 98.

The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, Dalton grew up in the Midwest. After earning an advanced degree in social work, she took a job at a “settlement house” in Cincinnati, Ohio. The settlement house movement, which started in the late 1800s, focused on providing safe places in mostly poor, immigrant urban neighborhoods where residents could get meals, medical care and childcare.

In the summer, Dalton took kids from the neighborhood to a church-based camp where one day she met an Episcopal minister on the church steps. “Our father always said that the wind came up and showed her legs and he immediately fell in love with her,” said Dindy Anderson in the eulogy she gave at her mother’s memorial service.

The couple married in 1945,

For the next 50 years, Albert and Mary Dalton were constantly on the move. They lived in the Philippines and Singapore, along with numerous U.S. states.

In the early 1950s, they were living in Louisville, Ky., and came upon a car crash involving an African-American family. At one hospital, the family was denied treatment. The experience led the Daltons to join the protest movement to desegregate the city’s hospitals.

“They weren’t radicals,” said Anderson, “but they knew what was right.”

In the 1960s, they moved to the Phillipines, where Albert Dalton was a hospital chaplain and taught clinical pastoral care. His wife quickly noticed that the only members of hospital’s auxilary were American women. Mary Dalton made sure that local Filipino women had an opportunity to join the organization.

“My mother never talked much about what she did,” said her daughter Meg Clough, who lives in West Windsor. “She was most comfortable working behind the scenes.”

There was a lot about Dalton that people didn’t know until Anderson spoke at her mother’s memorial service in December at St. Mark’s Episcopal. Dalton’s own mother died when she seven. She suffered the loss of her father and her first child at birth in the same year. In 1967, the Daltons’ 20-year-old daughter Beth was killed in a car crash.

Her mother had “tragedies in her life, yet she continued to face life with joy,” said Anderson, who lives in Great Barrington, Mass.

Dalton enjoyed in helping people any way that she could. While living in Texas, she took a government job with a local employment agency. Instead of following protocol and handing unemployed workers a listing of available jobs, she started out by asking everyone who came through the door, “What would you like to do?”

One man said he’d like to work as a trash collector. It wasn’t on the list of jobs in front of Dalton, so she made a few calls. By the end of the day, Dalton had found him a job.

The Daltons moved to West Windsor nearly 40 years ago when Albert Dalton became the minister at Brownsville Community Church.

Like everywhere else she had lived, Dalton had little difficulty immersing herself in the community. She worked in the kitchen at the church’s bean suppers and served her homemade vegetable soup at the annual Town Meeting Day luncheon.

She took the helm of the town’s Girl Scouts troop because “nobody was doing it,” said her daughter Meg. “Just ask her to do something, and she’d say yes.”

Margaret Sullivan met Dalton in the late 1990s through Volunteers in Action, an interfaith neighbor-helping-neighbor program. “In every community there are a few people that hold the community together,” Sullivan said. “Mary was one of them.”

After Albert Dalton retired, the couple joined St. Mark’s in Springfield. To help the church raise money for worthy causes (indigent prison inmates being one), Mary Dalton set up shop a few times a year at the Interstate 89 rest area in Sharon.

On holidays and weekends, Dalton and other church members handed out coffee and cookies to travelers who would give cash donations as a thank you. “That was Mary’s doing,” said Shuffleburg, “and we’re still doing it.”

After her husband died in 1993, Dalton continued to deliver for Meals on Wheels and drove seniors who were “younger than she was” to medical appointments and grocery shopping, said her daugther Meg.

In her 90s, Dalton moved into an apartment that Meg and her husband, Len, built onto their home. She kept driving the back roads to deliver meals and help other seniors get around. She continued to volunteer “probably longer than she should have been driving,” said Anderson in her eulogy.

But she was determined to live on her terms. A few years ago at a family reunion, she was “ticked that (her daughters) wouldn’t let her go whitewater rafting,” Len Clough said.

“She’d try anything,” Meg added.

With her health slowly declining, she needed the assistance of a walker, which she called her chariot. But she still made it to Bone Builders, a fitness group for seniors, that meets twice a week in West Windsor’s town hall.

Dalton and Susan Ober, a 73-year-old retired school teacher, started the group a dozen years ago. “Even when she started to have some physical problems, she still wanted to be involved,” Ober said. “She was our inspiration.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.