By Beth David, Editor
She cut quite the figure, even in her later years, as she bounded around town dressed in period dress portraying Sara Delano, Mary Rogers, Hannah Sogg, or Hester Cooke, all of them important figures in Fairhaven’s past. She was Natalie Hemingway, long time music teacher in Fairhaven, history buff, author, activist, and all-around cheerleader for Fairhaven and her beloved Fairhaven High School.
Mrs. Hemighway passed away at the age of 87 on Saturday, 6/17, after a period of declining health. A 1952 graduate of Boston University, she taught music in Fairhaven Public Schools for 31 years.
“I still remember the very first time she walked into the first grade classroom,” said Christopher Richard, director of Fairhaven’s Office of Tourism. “She made that much of an impression.”
The walking tours that his office is famous for were started by Mrs. Hemingway, he said, including the Riverside Cemetery tour.
“I wasn’t even that crazy about [the Riverside Tour],” said Mr. Richard. “It’s one of our most popular tours today.”
He said Mrs. Hemingway asked him to help her create the walking tours. She was on the town’s Tourism Committee, and became instrumental in starting the Office of Tourism.
“And she encouraged me to apply for the job,” said Mr. Richard. “So I wouldn’t be sitting in this office answering this phone right now if it wasn’t for Natalie Hemingway.”
Her influence started early, and went beyond tours or portraying historical characters.
“She’s way more important than that,” said Mr. Richard, and then ticked off a list of committees and initiatives that Mrs. Hemingway started, some, “before I was ever involved,” he added.
Mrs. Hemingway worked for, then owned Camara Tours, and it was visiting various other communities that made her realize Fairhaven had a lot of tourist appeal, said Mr. Richard.
She was very influential, with a few other members of the Historical Society and Tourism Committee, in getting the Office of Tourism created.
As a representative of the Tourism Committee, she greeted cruise ships that came into New Bedford Harbor, and then worked for one of the cruise lines, conducting tours.
But her biggest influence was probably as a teacher.
“All those childhood songs that we learned were from her,” said Mr. Richard. “She affected so, so many people that way.”
And she stayed in touch with people, too, he said, with people she met along the way, and with her former students.
She created characters to portray, such as Sara Delano (FDR’s mother), and others. Mrs. Hemingway would guide the tour through town, and woe to anyone who would call her by the wrong name: When she was Sara, or Mary or Hannah or Hester, dare not to call her by anything else.
Mr. Richard said she was meticulous about wearing period correct clothing for each of her characters, using the language of the day, and conducting the tours in the first person.
After all, if you are Mary Rogers or Sara Delano, you say, “This is where I used to live,” not this is where “she” used to live.
Mrs. Hemingway’s memory started to fade in the last few years, and it was difficult for those around her, admitted Mr. Richard. Her grasp of history, her ability to recall the names of so many students, slowly slipped away from her.
“That was what was hard for all of us, I think,” said Mr. Richard.
Natalie was inducted into the Fairhaven High School Hall of Fame, in 2000, as a Lifetime Achiever. She served on the School Committe, including as chairperson, as a town meeting member, and on a variety of other boards and committees. She was a founding member of the Fairhaven Village Militia.
She is survived by three sons, Kent W. Hemingway, Jr. and his wife Carolyn of Tamworth, NH, Peter W. Hemingway and his wife Leigh of Mattapoisett, and Thomas V. Hemingway and his wife Janet of Fairhaven; a brother, Dennis Sylvia and his wife Mary Evelyn of Middleboro; six grandchildren, three step-grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews.
A celebration of Natalie’s life was held on Thursday, 6/22, at the First Congregational Church in Fairhaven. Arrangements were by the Fairhaven Funderal Home, http://www. hathawayfunerals.com
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in remembrance of Natalie S. Hemingway to FAME, Inc. (Fairhaven Association for Music Education), 51 North Street, Fairhaven, MA 02719.
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