Digest>Archives> March 2005

Connie Scoville Small

History Dims With Passing Of “First Lady Of Light”

By Timothy Harrison


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Connie & Elson Small on their wedding day in ...

Connie Scoville Small, known in lighthouse circles as the “First Lady of Light,” died at the age of 103, this past January 25, 2005, at the Mark Wentworth Home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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Connie Small being escorted into the banquet hall ...

Connie, who was famous in the lighthouse preservation movement, had given over 550 lectures on lighthouse life and authored the popular book, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife. It was former President George Bush, in a speech at the ceremony in Northport, Maine, concluding the Maine Lights Program, who personally gave Connie Small the title of “First Lady of Light.”

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Connie Small (waving) and her cousin Emma Davis ...

Connie, born on June 4, 1901 in Lubec, Maine, is the daughter of Ira and Mabel (Myers) Scoville. Connie’s father was the keeper and one of the original crew of the Quoddy Head Life Saving Station in Lubec.

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Connie’s husband lighthouse keeper Elson Small ...

We all will miss Connie. She was an inspiration to everyone in the lighthouse movement. She was a warm and genuine person who never hesitated to share her memories and stories of lighthouse living from the days of yesteryear. For regular readers of Lighthouse Digest you will recall seeing Connie Small’s photographs and stories about her many times over the years. If you are a new reader, you may read many of those stories on our web site at www.LighthouseDigest.com

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Connie Small’s last public appearance was in ...

Connie’s husband, Elson, was no stranger to the Maine coast. His father, Fred Small, served with the U.S. Life Saving Service on the coast of Maine with one of his longer tenures at Cross Island Life Saving Station. Although Elson did not follow his father’s footsteps, he came close. He joined the United States Lighthouse Service, the sister organization of the Life Saving Service. With new bride Connie at his side, Elson Small went on to serve as a Maine lighthouse keeper at Lubec Channel Lighthouse in Lubec from 1920-1922, Avery Rock Lighthouse in Machias Bay from 1922-1926, Seguin Island Light at the mouth of the Kennebec River, from 1926-1930, St. Croix River Lighthouse near Calais from 1930-1945, and Portsmouth Harbor Light in New Hampshire from 1946-1948.

It wasn’t until she was 85, and then only at the urging of others, that Connie wrote her highly successful book recounting the years at those lighthouses. Although the book is a great history tale of lighthouse life in the early to mid 1900s, it’s also one of the greatest lighthouse love stories ever told and I recommend the book to anyone, even those with just a slight interest in lighthouses.

In 2001, Lighthouse Digest and the American Lighthouse Foundation honored Connie with a big birthday bash for her 100th birthday. Escorted by uniformed Coast Guard personnel and brought to the party in a limousine, Connie said at the time that the gigantic party was one of the highlights of her life. Connie always felt there was never enough emphasis placed on saving the memories and photographs of lighthouse life and devoted most of her talks to that subject. For her many years of dedication to saving lighthouse history, she was awarded the American Lighthouse Foundation’s highest honor, “The Keeper of the Light Award.”

In the past 10 years, Connie had been interviewed by dozens of reporters and had appeared in a number of film documentaries about lighthouses and lighthouse life. One of her favorite places to visit was the Museum of Lighthouse History in Wells, where she loved to chat with the visitors and autograph her book. Even at her last visit and autograph signing, just months ago, her mind was sharp, her storytelling spellbinding and her penmanship was immaculate.

Connie’s memories included meeting the first Flying Santa of the Lighthouses, Bill Wincapaw and then meeting his grandson this past December at Portsmouth Harbor Light, when the modern day Flying Santa of the Lighthouses visited the Coast Guard personnel at the station where Connie and her husband last served. In fact, she was the Honorary Chairperson of the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation.

Connie often recounted the story of her first visit with her husband to the Lubec Channel Light, which is a sparkplug-style lighthouse in Lubec Channel and totally surrounded by water. That first visit was at low tide. Connie took one look at the 30 feet of the black wrought iron ladder going straight up and said her heart went down to her toes. Being afraid of heights she told her husband, “I can never climb up there.” He replied, “Sure you can, I’ll be right behind you.” He then continued by saying, “Just look up and never look down,” which then became the motto of Connie’s life.

Connie’s funeral, held at the First Congregational Church in Elliott, Maine was well-attended with many of her lighthouse friends in attendance and naturally centered on her lighthouse life and lighthouses. The pastor read lighthouse poems, recounted her many lighthouse lectures and the entryway to the church featured many photographs of Connie’s illustrious life.

E-mail tributes to Connie Small came to us from people around the world. Connie, being a humble person, would have been amazed by all the tributes and attention, especially to the fact that the flags at Georgia’s Tybee Island Lighthouse were flown at half-staff in her memory. Quite an honor from a southern lighthouse to a Yankee Lady.

This story appeared in the March 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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