Marjory Gomez O’Toole
Like so many of my Wilbur School classmates (60 of us), I was born in Fall River and soon brought to Little Compton. I have a few early memories of family gatheringss, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if they are real memories or memories of watching Super-8 movies. Nursery School was a mother’s co-op in the parish house of the Congregational Church. My mom, Janice Turcotte Gomez, started her nursery school, Little Compton Nursery School, in the basement of the Catholic Church the following year. At the age of four (because of my December birthday) I had half-day Kindergarten with Mrs. Pitts in a dark room with only one exit under the stage at Wilbur School. We all wore yellow construction paper teddy bears around our necks with our bus number on them to make sure we got home okay. I was Bus 6. One day I fell asleep, missed my stop and started crying. The bus driver, Lenny, drove me down my driveway right up to my kitchen door. I must have been able to read at least a little at that time because I remember hiding my Kindergarten report card under the couch cushions to keep my parents from knowing I had a “puppy love” that was hurting my academics.
For me school was a very joyous place. The teachers bent over backwards not only to teach us the basics, but to treat us to special days – Kite Day, Field Day, Middle East Day, Grandparents Day. Those were the things that really made an impression on me. It is funny what you remember – Jimmy Waite picking me up and putting me in the trashcan in third grade, Totally failing check writing in fifth grade, and Mrs. Kirchner telling me I really needed to read something besides Nancy Drew. I was a terrible athlete. Poor Mr. Mac would say, “Marjory, please go home and play catch with your brothers.,” but I remember the one day I miraculously caught a pop fly like it was yesterday.
The highlight of those elementary school years was the town Tricentennial in 1975. I rode in the parade on the Girl Scout float. I was a Brownie. I put pennies in the jars in Peaked Top School to vote for Miss Little Compton, and I marched in the Portuguese parade in my First Communion Dress on a 104 degree day. Mrs. Avelino bought me a red snow cone, and I spilled it down the front of my dress. My parents took us to many patriotic places for vacations around that time. The Bicentennial was nice, but it did not compare to the Tricentennial.
I loved spending time at both my grandparents’ houses. When it got dark my mom would call and tell Grandma Gomez to send me home. I’d run back through the field and wash the dirt off my bare feet before climbing into bed. One night I saw the Northern Lights, and it stopped me in my tracks. Granny Turcotte’s house required a car ride. I slept over on many of my school vacations, and she taught me to sew. Sunday dinners were wonderful family gatherings at her house with the opportunity to play cards for money. Gran used to cheat so that the kids would win. I paid some of my college tuition with those gambling winnings.
As high school approached my cousins told me I was probably going to get beat up in the girls’ room at Middletown High School, so I asked my parents to send me to Bishop Stang. (In hindsight, I may have overreacted.) A lot of us went to Stang in those years. St. Catherine’s Church sponsored a school bus, and it was full. Tuition was $800 a year when I started. Today it is over $10,000. I was very grateful that my parents agreed, mostly because I met my future husband there. Tim O’Toole and I sat in the same row in Mr. Crowley’s Survey of US History class when I was 14. His first words to me were, “What did you get on the test?” I don’t remember exactly, but it was a few point’s better than his grade.
Stang also introduced me to Terry Dougall, my biology teacher. Mrs. Dougall was my all-time favorite teacher and inspired me to do my very best work. After Stang, I went to Brown and studied biology. It was ok, and I did fine, but I really liked my humanities classes better, an omen for the future.
After graduation, I followed Tim to Connecticut. The one and only time I lived away from LC. I found a job as a museum educator at the Thames Science Center, and I loved it. The Executive Director, Jane Holdsworth, encouraged creativity and independence among her staff members. There, I had the opportunity to learn grant writing, curriculum development, and program management. Jane taught me never to use exclamation points. (If something is exciting it will be exciting – no need to rely on a punctuation crutch.) She also said that the most important thing to remember about fundraising is that people won’t give you money just because you need money, but they will willingly support you if you are doing good work. I try very hard to do good work. Jane was passionate about her work, but even more passionate about her children. She was a strong, brave, independent thinker and a wonderful first professional role model. She died much too young of a brain tumor. I think of her often.
Tim worked for American Airlines in CT, and we used his flight benefits to the maximum. One year we vacationed in Germany, England and Hawaii, and it cost us next to nothing. I loved those travels and even now we travel whenever we can, but no matter where we go, Little Compton still feels like home.
After we started our family, both Tim and I really wanted to raise our kids back in Little Compton, near my parents and his mom. Making sure Jack could go to his grandmother’s nursery school became a priority. Tim worked full time and attended funeral director school at night. I was home alone with first one and then two babies. Those were long days. We frequently came “home” on the weekends to Little Compton and rejoiced in handing Jack and Charlotte to their grandparents.
After he graduated funeral school, Tim found a job in Providence and my parents very generously offered to take us all in during the transition. We built our house on land that was my grandparents’ Turcotte farm that my grandmother and my parents gifted to us. The build was supposed to take 6 months, it took 18. My parents are saints. The septic system was the real hold up because of the wet ground. The day Junior Wilkie was able to dig our septic hole I cried tears of joy. Jack did go to Grammy Gomez’ nursery school. He also became one of the very few children she ever suspended.
Playgroup was my salvation – a once a week chance to talk with other women and eat nice snacks. The women (and men) I’ve met through playgroup and the early years at Wilbur School are still my friends today.
Shortly after our return to LC, I took a part-time job at the Little Compton Community Center. It had just opened and in many ways was an empty building. Lee Wyatt was my job share partner. Eight years (and one more O’Toole baby – James) later the center was hopping with a variety of programs for young and old.
Then a friend told me the Historical Society was looking for a new director, and I took a chance. Besides talking to Tim O’Toole in history class all those years ago, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m in my fifteenth year with the Historical Society now and am the Executive Director.
I had the privilege of working directly with town historian Carlton Brownell for several years, and I soon discovered a real passion for local history. The non-profit management skills I learned at the science center, and honed at the Community Center, translated beautifully, and the research skills that biology requires also translated very nicely into history research. A key moment in my new history career came when I had the opportunity to return to Brown (as a “slightly” older student) to get my MA in Public Humanities. I graduated in 2018 at the age of 50 with my kids cheering in the audience.
How lucky am I to spend my days surrounded by family and friends and sharing the story of the community I love so much?
February 29, 2020