Are there any lives that can be distilled into column inches? It is doubtful. For our brilliant, spirited, and beloved "Dodie," however, the task seems impossible. Even volumes wouldn't do.
But convention calls.
Jean Scott Wood Creighton was born in Buffalo, NY, on September 26, 1923, and died two days shy of her 95th birthday, on September 24, 2018. She was a force early on, singing marching songs, shouldering arms with her artillery captain father, and determined to play with the boys. She attended The Franklin School, The Park School of Buffalo, and Miss Porter's School in Connecticut. She and best friend Dotty Gurney shared an early life of adventures: they were WW2 nurses' aides at Fort Dix, earned pilots' licenses together, and started a business that sold the first children's seat belt (until an assistant ran away with the cashbox).
She wanted to be an actor. After high school, she successfully auditioned in Carnegie Hall for the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her mother explained that, given the family finances, typing would be more useful. She didn't give up acting, however, and on various Buffalo stages she played outlandish characters with outlandish accents. Her mother, in the audience, covered her eyes in mortification. She continued to perform throughout her life, mostly off stage, and enjoyed appearing in disguise: in a wig, a fake nose, speaking French or German. In her very last years she perfected animal calls, and was especially skilled at the rooster, the barred owl, the tiger, and the laying hen.
She wanted to be an actor, but she became an academic, studying English literature at the University of Buffalo, publishing work on Joseph Conrad and writing a dissertation on Charles Dickens. It took no prompting at all to set her into a recitation in Old or Middle English, of Shakespeare or the Romantic poets. She taught writing and literature into her eighties: first in Buffalo, then at Indiana University in Gary; then in Bath, Maine; and finally at the University of Maine, Senior College.
It was as a writer of murder mysteries that she hit her stride. As J.S. Borthwick, a pen name borrowed from a Scottish ancestor, she published 13 books. The New York Times praised them as "perfect" cozy reading, featuring eccentric characters and not a lot of blood. They proved extraordinarily useful in avenging perceived injustices in her life. What better way to even the score with a mean-spirited French teacher than to do away with her in fiction? Traveling with her was a peculiar delight. Who doesn't want to visit Monet's garden pond to see if it has sufficient depth for a drowning?
It was clear, as she headed into her nineties, that her heart was no longer into made-up murders. Her last manuscript featured a malevolent dentist, but by page 100, not a soul had been done in. She turned instead to poetry, to written sketches of unorthodox relatives, to children's books. Her last work, finished this summer, was FIFTEEN BIRDS AND A RABBIT, featuring her own paintings and poems about birds. "Why was a rabbit included?" she was asked. "He just hopped in," she explained.
She met James Alexander Creighton, an engineer and WW2 Naval commander, and whose family was from Maine, on a ski hill in the winter of 1947. They settled in western New York, relocated for a decade to Northern Indiana, and eventually made their way back to Maine. "Gump," as Jim was known, watched good-naturedly as his wife marched in the streets for progressive causes, and wore earmuffs while she played the recorder. Their enduring marriage-he died in 2008-- proved that an optimist and a pessimist could occasionally stand in agreement.
She said that she wanted to be remembered as a friend to animals. Dozens of cats, dogs, pigeons, pet crows, and birds could attest to her kindness. (Well, maybe not the pigeons she raised early on-she did like squab). She rescued creatures of all sorts, worked at the Humane Society, and wrote a book about a cat named Moxie. Late in life she rode dressage on a patient and ancient horse named Conkey Noodle.
She was a friend to animals, and she was beloved by humans. Her way with words, her feisty and theatrical spirit, and above all her warm and inventive wit will be treasured forever by her children Margaret, Alec, and Mac Creighton, their spouses and partners Rob Smith, Paula Christen, Maria Converse, and Jet Creighton; her grandchildren Katie Creighton, Clare Creighton and Dane Skinner, Nick Smith and Julie Smith, Malcolm Creighton-Smith, Louisa Creighton-Smith, Alec Creighton, Griffin Creighton and Madison Creighton; by great-grandchildren Ian Creighton-Skinner and Copeland Smith; and by her Goddaughters Susan and Nancy Gurney.
Her family and animal friends would ask that, instead of flowers, any donations in her name be sent to
Pope Memorial Humane Society of Knox County
P.O. Box 1294
Rockland, Maine 04841