The family man and long-time pastor, known for opening his heart and home to friends and history lovers, Donald Prescott Dickinson, 85, died this week following a battle with dementia and declining health.
His wife, Elaine, noted how it seemed almost fitting that her husband’s passing occurred around Thanksgiving.
“He had a forgiving heart and was always thankful for what was, particularly in prayer. She said he never failed to express thanks, even for the slightest act of kindness, and even during his recent illness “Don would express his gratitude to family, friends and his hospice nurse.”
Donald Dickinson was born on February 1, 1931, and grew up in Salem, Massachusetts.
“He may have developed his interest in history from that town which was steeped in history.” observed Elaine.
Don felt his spiritual calling early on while attending summer bible camp as a child. Later, while caring for his aging mother in Wales, Massachusetts, he preached in the local Baptist Church while studying for his divinity degree. Following graduation from Gordon College & Divinity School in 1961, he served as minister of Charlestown, Massachusetts Baptist Church, where his future wife was among the congregants.
After nearly 10 years in Charlestown, Don and Elaine settled in Lawrence, where Don served First Calvary Baptist Church. While active in numerous social and charitable organizations, Don’s administration and leadership abilities would be challenged when, in 1988, fire destroyed the church building. Undaunted, he secured temporary worship space by sharing ministerial duties at a church in nearby Methuen, and leading a re-building effort in North Andover where he continued a successful ministry until 1993.
He had a saying, a motto, if you will, said Elaine, “Whatever you’re called to say or do, say and do it.”
After more than 30 years in the ministry and raising two children, Holly and David, Don and Elaine move to Ocean Park in Old Orchard, Maine. Elaine continued her work as a registered nurse.
“And he went looking for his dream: An 18th century house. His dream, not mine,” said Elaine, casting a sardonic smile.
The two settled in Windham’s historic Parson Smith House on River Road, a 1764 Georgian style “mansion” first occupied by Windham’s second settled minister, Rev. Peter Thatcher Smith. The house and adjacent carriage shed, then over 225 years old, had been a house museum and was in need of repair, particularly the interior. Elaine slowly warmed to their new home, and following a few years of historically correct restoration, opened their living history property to the community. Over many years, thousands of local residents, including school children, toured the house, guided by the two enthusiastic docents.
Don granted the Eagle and other news outlets many interviews during the house tour years.
“Houses can’t talk,” he once said, “but they can tell stories.”
Daughter Holly noted her parents never were lonely in the big house.
“Being in this house has been wonderful. The world came to him – he loved entertaining people.”
But just as history informs the present and helps guide the future, so did Don’s earlier life in the ministry. Many congregants from the Charlestown church, many of them children in poverty at the time, remained in touch with their former beloved pastor.
“He taught them how to be parents,” said Elaine. “They returned to say thank you for his influence on their lives.”
Holly said her father provided them with a template for life.
“It had an effect through generations. (My dad) characterized it as being a ‘watch care pastor’ – his own term.”
Elaine shared a parting thought as this tribute interview to her husband came to a close.
“It will be a long time before we meet a man as sincere and dedicated to his church and community as was Rev. Donald P. Dickinson.”
His legacy: Whatever you’re called to say or do, say and do it.”
Donald P. Dickinson
Where I go,
there you will be
into the text
of my being
one continuous strand
threaded through the
weft of my memory.
There you will live,
tucked into the folds
until we meet again.
Holly Dickinson Amidon - 2016