Edith Gray Earle of Hingham died at her home on Friday, April 26th after a brief illness. She was 96 years old. Her five children, Michael Earle, Katharine Earle Babson, Susan Earle, Timothy Earle, and Gerald Earle, together with his wife Kathryn Hood Earle, were by her side. Katharine Babson’s husband, Bradley, and Timothy Earle’s wife Laurie L’Heureux Earle were unable to be present but in spirit. Edie had six grandchildren: Augusta Babson Philbin (husband Quinn Philbin); Oliver Babson (wife Jamie Zembruski), Roger Earle (fiancée Marguerite Ladd); James Earle (finacee Jacqueline Walkins); Tristan Earle (wife Ashli); and Nicholas Earle. She had 7 greatgrandchildren: Skylar and Mirelle Babson, Adrianna and Zander Earle, and Amelia, Maida and Corbett Philbin.
Born in Boston on August 8, 1922 to her parents, Katharine Partridge and William Ayres Gray, “Edie” was raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the home of her father’s family, but spent almost equal time in Hingham, especially during the summer months when she joined her mother’s family relatives, the Stevenses and the Partridges, who summered on Crow Point Hill and sailed at The Hingham Yacht Club. She also spent many childhood summer months on Lake Champlain outside Vergennes, Vermont at a French language camp for girls, L’Ecole de Champlain, where she learned to speak and sing fluently in French. Her love of the language persisted throughout her life, even to her last weeks, when still using the stairs to make her way up to bed at night, she would rehearse for each step upwards a different French word in a variety of categories – fish one day, pastries the next, then, fruits or animals - to stretch her vocabulary and ease her climb. She was a member of a French-speaking luncheon group of dear friends who enjoyed shared meals and sharing their memories of how they had come to love and exercise the language.
After graduating from The Kent Place School in New Jersey, she matriculated at Wellesley College, where she thrived, and from which she graduated in 1944. She remained an active Wellesley alumna; before her death she was looking forward to attending her 75th reunion. Having majored in zoology and minored in biology, she then went to work in a Boston hospital laboratory where she worked with blood samples and tested for pathogens in foods.
On September 6th, 1947, Edie married Roger Rushmore Earle, a handsome young Yale graduate and engineer who had worked at The Fore River Shipyard. They soon moved their home to Hingham and began life in the town of her childhood summers, a life that at the time of her death had known Hingham for over 90 years.
Early in their marriage, the Earles purchased a beautiful property on the northern New York State shore of Lake Champlain, where they eschewed a house, choosing instead to spend the summers in a large custom made canvas tent, and to cook on a camp stove under a tent fly. Edie taught her children about plants and insects, forest animal life and habits, the identity and names of the constellations of stars and how to cook delicious camp food with a minimum of ingredients. The family was happier there than anywhere else.
Yet Hingham was always Edie’s primary home, the town she had known and loved since her earliest childhood. Hingham also knew Edie as she raised her five children, nurtured pets great and small, led a Brownie Scout troop, cultivated flowers and tomatos in her gardens, and cooked global foods that educated her family about others’ cultures and traditions. The Earle family table often swelled with her children’s friends, young people who enjoyed conversations presided over by such a fun and funny, lively matriarch.
She was active in The Garden Club of Hingham where she wrote numerous articles about its history. She was very involved in the life and ministry of The Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist where she served on the parish vestry, the Altar and Needlepoint Guilds, and as a Sunday School teacher.
Edie’s lifelong love of plants and people, and of zoology and botany, morphed into innumerable lessons to her children about the facts of life, which she often illustrated liberally on the backs of found envelopes and odd scraps of paper that her children then took with them to school at Derby Academy where they further informed and enlightened their classmates with choice lessons about life and how it worked. She was ever the teacher, and a most creative one.
It was during her 17 years as a teacher of history and sewing at Derby Academy that she made many lasting friendships and enjoyed some of her most creative years. Not only did she draw the usual girls into her sewing classes, but for the first time in school history, she attracted boys who learned to sew pillows for their mothers and stuffed animals for their siblings. Her sewing classroom was a production workshop for costumes for school plays and for masks and props she used to introduce students to the customs and holidays celebrated in other nations of the world. Her history classes were similarly enlightened by creative approaches to learning. She loved to recount the time a young boy, shy of trying the strangeness of a fresh fig, finally dared to try it and exclaimed, “Why Mrs. Earle, it tastes just like a Fig Newton!”
In her post-retirement years, she and her husband Roger were active in a regional Miniature Club, making little things to decorate a doll’s house, creating miniature displays for national competitions and enjoying the creativity of fellow miniaturists. Two words she often used to describe the people she most admired was “bright;” another was “verbal; and to describe them and kindred activities of mind and skill she enjoyed with them she honored them with the descriptor that they were, like she was,“creative.”
Truly, Edie was in thought, word and deed creative, and she was verbal: she could recite poetry at length; she could proffer verses from Shakespeare’s plays when the moment was right for such wisdom. With gusto and a twinkle in her eye, she could sing all the college songs. She was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, and relished the use of her practically unequaled vocabulary – in English and in French.
Perhaps friends and strangers will remember Edie best of all as the lady who perched on a stool outside her Main Street home on the Fourth of July, ringing an old family cowbell with which to spur Fourth of July marathoners on to their finish line. Behind her, her home celebrated the day and the country she loved with a huge American flag that covered the entire front face of the house. In the days leading up to the fourth, she would relish passing cars and motorcycles as they passed by, honking their approval of the grand display. So it happened that any who didn’t even know her name or anything else about her, came to know her simply as “The Flag Lady.”
Now into another life and another adventure, may she go forth as undaunted as ever, and continue to contribute and inspire the creativity of all that is and will be.
A service to celebrate her life will be held at the Church of St. John the Evangelist at 2 o’clock on Saturday, May 4th. Gifts in honor of her life may be made to the Church of St. John, or to The South Shore Hospice in Weymouth, or the Norwell Visiting Nurse and Hospice in Norwell.