Giving a voice to ‘Granny D’

Last modified: 1/15/2015 9:12:08 AM
Dixie Tymitz was walking through a bookstore in Seattle, Washington when she spied a book with a little old woman wearing a funny hat on the cover. The title further caught her attention: “Granny D: Walking Across America in my Ninetieth Year.”

Tymitz is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She’d never before heard of Doris “Granny D” Haddock. But a book like that, with a title like that, seemed like a must read, said Tymitz in a recent interview during a visit to Peterborough. So, she picked it up and promptly forgot about it. Quite some time later, Tymitz got an opportunity to write a book review, and when she scrambled last minute to find a book to read, there was Haddock’s memoir, which details the more than year-long journey she took between the ages of 88 and 90, when she walked over 3,200 miles across the continental United States to advocate for campaign finance reform.

“I was blown over by her whole story,” said Tymitz. “And I read newspapers. I watch the news, I watch CNN. I knew nothing about this woman. I had never heard of her, and I thought that people need to know about her.”
The best way that Tymitz, an actress and playwright, knew how to do that was to take Haddock’s story to the stage. So, she wrote Haddock, asking for her permission to turn her walk across the country into a one-woman play that she hoped to premier for students from around the United States at a Semester at Sea program she was participating in. Haddock wrote back and gladly gave her permission, said Tymitz, but as she prepared to assume the role of the woman whose life had so peaked her interest, Tymitz knew that she couldn’t do it without meeting the woman herself.

“I kept thinking, ‘I have to meet her.’”

She called up Haddock, and was able to speak to her daughter-in-law, who told her that Haddock was in poor health, and if she was able to meet with Tymitz at all, it might only be for five or ten minutes.

“I didn’t care,” said Tymitz. So, she bought a plane ticket to Manchester, rented a car, and drove her way to Dublin to meet the infamous Granny D, even if it was only for a few moments.

“I went up to the door, and there was this little woman standing there with a smile. And you know what? We spent the whole day together.”

Haddock showed little signs of frailty, said Tymitz, scurrying up an attic ladder to fetch Tymitz a DVD that showed her speaking for Tymitz to use in crafting her character, taking Tymitz out to lunch and showing off her enthusiastic love of chocolate.

“She ruined my life as it was, because I never could say again that I was too old or it was too late,” said Tymitz.

Tymitz created a one-woman show around Haddock’s cross country walk, utilizing only herself and a projector screen operated by her husband, ending with her completing her walk at the steps of the capital, and the speech she gave there. She did, indeed, premiere it for her Semester at Sea students, and was able to email Haddock to tell her, “Doris, you got a standing ovation.”

She would meet Granny D twice more before her death in 2010 — once during a release of a documentary based on Haddock’s 2004 unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, and again during her 100th birthday party. Haddock would pass away only weeks later.

“I’ve been thinking about what it was about her that did catch me so,” said Tymitz. “Because she did, before I ever met her. I think it’s that she would go through all of that, at her age. That she believed in something that deeply and strongly. She endured extreme weather, and though she had people with her at some points, she thought at the beginning that she would be doing this alone. She was as willing to give her life for her country as any soldier. I feel compelled to tell her story.”

Tymitz is in the area to do a series of performances at local schools and public venues of her one-woman play, “Granny D: The Power of One.” She will be visiting ConVal High School to present her performance for students there at 10 a.m. this morning, and will be at the Mariposa Museum in Peterborough for a show that is open to the public on Friday at 7 p.m.

Admission to the Mariposa is $10 for adults, $6 for members of the Mariposa, and $3 for children. A second show will be held at the Dublin Community Center on Main Street on Saturday at 6 p.m.




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