Her grandfather Schmuel was eighth in a line of intellectual rabbis known as rebbes and the “downstairs,” or scholarly, rabbi at Boston’s crown-jewel synagogue on Crawford Street.
Her husband, Mauray, gave birth to the largest dermatological practice in this part of the country and, at the time of his death 25 years ago, was hailed as the conscience of Haverhill.
But Dorothy Rubinoff Tye didn’t just outlive both of them – dying last week at the age of 101 – in many respects she outshone them, in ways that say something about the Queen Slipper City that she was a part of for nearly a century and that she loved until her end.
Mrs. Tye was the first president of Temple Emanu-El’s sisterhood and a firebrand for everything Jewish or civic minded in town. She cofounded Emanu-El’s Social Action Committee and the Merrimack Valley’s Catholic-Jewish Dialogue. She was a driving force in the Anti-Defamation League, the Haverhill Public Library, and the Association for Retarded Citizens.
She and her husband pushed for stronger evacuation plans and safety controls at the nuclear plant in their summertime community of Seabrook Beach. And, with her husband, she endowed a scholar-in-residence program that brought to Haverhill leading figures ranging from the former Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin to the head of Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum.
It is for her spirit more than her resume, however, that friends and family remember the woman everyone called “Dot.” She emerged from her mother’s womb in 1919 with what doctors feared was a rare facial deformity, then realized was a luminous and expansive grin. And it not only never went away but was contagious.
Her radiance lit up the Rubinoff household, an economically stretched but culturally enriched family in Portland, Maine, known as the Jerusalem of the North. Her last name in those days was a proud Jewish one carried by ship from Russia and kept intact in America.
Her parents, Rose and Selmour, were married by contract and in love by choice. They also were in awe of their Dottie, the whip smart girl who, on their worst days, could make them smile, and on their best had them in stitches. The jokes were just a part of it; what mattered most was her joyful telling.
That same magic was embraced by a sober-minded, big-hearted medical student named Mauray Joel Tye. He first noticed Dot in the dining room at Boston City Hospital, where she was head dietician and he a doc-to-be. One date led to more. The two soon tied a knot and planted stakes in the heart of Haverhill, where Mauray’s father Joe and uncle Sam were centerpieces of the city’s then-thriving shoe business.
Mauray and Dot were just getting started – with Suzanne, Donald, and Larry soon making a family of five -- then watching that multiply into a brood of 19.
The constants were Dot as the glue, and her capacity for a sweetness that was never saccharine, an optimism that steered clear of Pollyanna, and a magical capacity to help everyone in her orbit express their better natures.
And it wasn’t just as a Tye and a Hillie that you could count the ways she made lives better. When Mauray died on the eve of their moving into the newly opened Edgewood Retirement Community in North Andover, Dot picked up the mantle and helped build it into a community in more than just name.
In her last weeks, Dorothy fell twice, injuring her hip and her knee. Yet on her last day she seemed to be rallying yet again, eating a big breakfast of pancakes and convincing a volunteer aide to manicure her nails a pale pink.
An hour later she closed her eyes for the last time.
A former reporter at the Boston Globe, Larry Tye is the author of seven non-fiction books, a native of Haverhill and the youngest of Dorothy's three children.