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Ruth Coffin’s Interview

Ruth E. Coffin (1920-2017) of Portland, Maine was married to Judge Frank M. Coffin (1919-2009) who was a lawyer, Congressman, executive branch official, and judge on the First Circuit Court of Appeals for forty years. In this interview, she discusses her earliest childhood memories of the Bronx, falling in love with Frank Coffin, the “Big Man on Campus” at Bates College, and highlights of her life as Coffin’s wife and mother of their four children.

Date of Interview:
July 23, 2015
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly, and it is Thursday, July 23rd, 2015, and I’m in South Portland, Maine with Ruth Coffin. My first question is to ask her to tell her name, speak her name and spell it.

Ruth Coffin: Well, my name is Ruth Ulrich Coffin, but I go by Ruth E. Coffin when I sign checks, and so that’s what my name is today. Ruth, I think everybody knows Ruth. Coffin, C-o-f-f-i-n, and everybody should know that name, too. But, I was born an Ulrich, I was Ruth Ulrich, and Ulrich is U-l-r-i-c-h.

Cindy: Great. All right. Well, if you like, it would be good to know when you were born, if you can tell us.

Ruth’s Parents and Birth (1920)

Yes, I’d like to tell you that. I was born in 1920, and in the Bronx in New York City. The Bronx doesn’t look like these days. I haven’t been back, but I know it’s kind of part of Harlem. I don’t that for sure, but it was rural.

My parents were Lutherans and my mother and my father knew each other from the church. There was an active young people’s group, and they knew each other. They didn’t court until he had graduated from high school and then he graduated from the New York University. Hee was an accountant. At that point, he thought he had enough assurance to be able to support a wife, and so he proposed to her.  She had no idea he wanted to marry her! But they had fun together, and that’s how it happened.

It was a brief courtship, because it was right after the war and he was in the war. I mean, he was, he never had to go overseas. The war was over just about when he went into it, I think. He has no battle stories, but we did know that they were married in 1919.

I was born the next year in 1920. My next sister was born fifteen months later, and it went on like that for five more children. I’ll get to that later if you want to hear all about it.

Vivid Memories of the Bronx

Being born in the Bronx and growing up there, I do have stories about the things that I can remember. I have vivid memories of those first five years. And, the first one is very vivid to me, because we, I and my sister visited my grandmother. We lived on one corner of the Bronx, on Briggs Avenue, 198th Street. I think it was 198th Street, but that’s where we lived. We lived in an apartment house.

My grandfather owned a butcher shop at the other corner of the street. He and his family lived over the butcher shop. It was an apartment house.

My sister Helen and I would walk down there most every afternoon to visit my grandmother. She knew we were coming, and so she watched out for us. When we got to the apartment house, she would throw us a nickel. Each one had a nickel all wrapped up, and it came down and we could pick the nickel up. Luckily, underneath the apartment house was a drugstore that sold ice cream. And, so we had a “Tute.“  That’s what the Germans called an ice cream cone, it’s a “Tute.” And, so Helen and I had that memory.

And, then we’d go into the butcher shop and we’d see what was going on in there. My grandfather would tease us. Well, anyway, he’d always be cheerful.

One day, Mother said, “Well, you ask him to do a pound of meat in one piece. I want a piece of meat in one piece. He’ll know what I mean.”

And, so we said, “Mother wants a piece of meat, not cut up.”

He said, “Well, I’m the boss here.” He began filling another order that somebody wanted the meat cut up.

We said, “Oh, she wants it not cut up.”

Helen said, “Come. If he doesn’t give us what we want, we’ll go to another door.” Another “door” because she wasn’t talking very well. So he laughed about that, because where would she go? Where would we go to get another piece of meat not cut up?

Well, that’s one story. I don’t know as I’ve ever told that story to anybody.

Before Helen was old enough to come with me, I’d go down all by myself. And, one day there was a horse and a delivery wagon, and the horse had his foot on the curb. And, I was supposed to walk down the sidewalk with a horse’s foot right on the curb where I was going to, side-by-side. And, I got scared, so I ran home. I couldn’t go that day, because I was afraid of the horse. 

I can remember that first Christmas when I was only 18 months old, I had a Christmas present that my uncle had gave me. It was a little set of a muff and a scarf, and it was white fur. That fur impressed so much that I remembered it all my life.

I think it’s amazing that I had that vivid memory, because we’ve seen pictures of it, and I had the memory before I saw the pictures. So, there! Anyway, I was proud of remembering that, too.

The other memory I have is my mother, her best friend from the church lived nearby and she was a maiden lady, she had never married. She wasn’t much older than my mother. Mother was, she was almost, anyway, twenty-seven, I think, when she got married.

But, she’d come over and take Helen and me and bring us to her house, or she’d just go walking. She was a great asset to my mother and we just loved our visits to her home. There was a cuckoo clock there that we had happy memories of and she had other things to entertain us.

One day, I guess maybe I was four years old. She brought us back—we were there for a long time—and when we got home, close to the apartment house, she said, “There’s going to be a surprise for you when you get home.” And, we went upstairs and there we saw a baby. So, we had a baby sister, and that was the way we got the third daughter that my mother had. So, there were three of us.

Moving to Bloomfield, NJ

My father worked for General Electric and somebody told him that there was an opening for a new factory in Bloomfield, New Jersey that needed someone with his ability for being an accountant. He decided that he’d be adventuresome, and he said, “Yes.”

This meant that we were leaving the Bronx and moving to Bloomfield, New Jersey. That involved so many things that my mother was worried. We had to buy a house and they couldn’t pay for a house, of course. And, they were going to have to borrow money.

She’d always been told that you don’t borrow; you pay for what you get. So, she had that old-fashioned idea. But my father explained to her that this is not really borrowing, it’s just investing. And, anyway, she did what he wanted her to do, and so we moved to Bloomfield.

We also needed to buy a car. Our life had changed. The place that we bought was a sweet little house with a backyard and a driveway, and many neighbors around. We had room to play and the backyard had a see-saw, and it was a fun place to grow up.

One of the little incidents shows how I must have been observant when I was five years old or thereabouts. I remember looking up in the sky and seeing Orion’s belt, three stars in a row. Somebody must have told me about this because, I looked up there and I said, “Oh, the three stars. They followed us here to Bloomfield. Isn’t that wonderful?” So, I think that was my first introduction to astronomy.

I had a very ordinary growing up. The family was a loving family. We never were mistreated or anything like that. We just knew that we were loved, but we were never encouraged to be adventuresome. They never took us to a museum or music, so. I think we never travelled.

Deciding on Bates

I was a good student and I got top grades, and I was not exactly one of the popular girls. I had my friends, but it was kind of sedate and not very exciting. And when I got to be a senior—one thing I didn’t say in the beginning, that my father was very aware of money, and he began to save even then. He wanted to save enough money so that he could send all of his children to college, because my mother didn’t even graduate from high school. She never went to high school. That was all she needed, they thought. But, he was the one who did get a college education.

I just wanted to find a college that would be far away from home. I wanted to have a whole new life and I wanted to do it myself. Not that I didn’t want the family, but I just needed some more adventure in life I guess.

I started talking to people and looking things up. Nobody helped me very much, except our dentist said, “Well, I have a daughter who went to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and she liked it.  I have a lot of brochures, pictures of it.”

He gave me that and I looked at this material from Bates College, and I said, “That’s the one for me.” And, so I applied, never had an interview, just applied. I had good grades and I was accepted and that began my life.

Meeting Frank Coffin

Bates College was the best thing I had done, including meeting Frank Coffin. And, I guess I have to tell you how we met. Jean, my roommate, she lived in Connecticut and we had lunch together one day. She told me that her mother graduated from Bates College and she said, “And, I know, I already know somebody there, and his name is Frank Coffin.”

I thought to myself, “Well, that’s, she’s one up on me. She knows somebody and I don’t.”  But, anyway, that stuck in my mind.

When the time came for our Freshman Week, the first day, we were alone and we were assigned to a dormitory. My roommate said, “Let’s go down and see Mrs. Coffin.” She was the leader and I followed her. It wasn’t very far away, but that is where Frank grew up, in Lewiston, right on the campus, just down a few houses away.

We knocked on the door and went in. It was early in the morning, and Frank was having breakfast. He had other things on his mind. He was in charge of the freshman class [orientation].

He didn’t forget that he had met somebody, because two or three days later, I was walking along and sure, there he was, coming the opposite direction. He recognized me, so he said, “Hi,” and I said, “Hi.” That’s all.

Saturday Night Dances

He hadn’t really thought much about me, I don’t think. Then that weekend, there was a dance. Every Saturday night there was a dance at Bates College, and of course, I went. And, I was eager to meet lots of guys, because I hadn’t any boyfriend that I liked at home. I had one, but I didn’t like him. He was okay.

Frank saw me and he said, “May I have this dance?” And, I said, “Of course.” It was the sixth dance and at Bates when you had the sixth dance with somebody, that means you can have intermission with her and spend ten or fifteen minutes resting and having something to drink—not alcohol, of course.

So, I had that with him. Then he also walked the ten-minute walk to the dormitory. That was it. He just liked the idea of me, and he kept at it. And, I’m not going to go into the details, but he was persistent in thinking of things to do, and knowing him, he always had something crazy to plan on.

But, I wanted to have more choices. I wanted lots of boyfriends. So, my roommate told him to, “No, take it easy. She wants to have others. She wants to look around a little bit.”

Anyway, he distanced himself. Nobody else came so I was alone. Finally, there was a dance and he asked me to go to the dance,. I said to myself, “Well, I’m going to go to dance with Frank Coffin.”

Well, that was it. Not that he’s a good dancer, he wasn’t. But he knew how to keep time anyway and use the same step. It didn’t seem to matter to me. We had a good time.

Made for Each Other

Of course, we danced all the time. We had other partners, but everybody on campus knew that Frank Coffin was, well, what’s the word. I don’t think we used the words they do now, but was “interested” in Ruth Coffin, I mean, in Ruth Ulrich. And, we got interested in each other, too.

He was not romantic, he really was not. But, I knew what he meant and so he said, “Ruth, I think I love you.” To me, that meant he wanted to marry me. Can you believe that? And, that’s what happened.

We didn’t get married until four years later after I graduated. We had the whole four years of college, except he went to Harvard Law School. He was two years ahead of me. He went to Harvard Law School, but we saw each other a lot then. He would come home and I would go down. We had a courtship.

Perfect with a Crazy Streak

Cindy: And, by this time, you were all in?

Ruth: I was what?

Cindy: You were an enthusiastic partner in the courtship?

Ruth: Oh, yes. I returned that declaration of love, which meant, “Yes! I’ll marry you.”

You know, he never said, “Will you marry me?” But he gave me a ring when I graduated, which we could say we were engaged.

We were just made for each other. I get emotional about it, because he was so perfect.

And, then, we had to cope with the war.

Nancy: It wasn’t all perfect, was it, Mother?

Ruth: Oh, it was.

Nancy: It was, yes?

Ruth: Well, no. What do you mean “perfect”?

Nancy: Well…You said he did crazy things.

Ruth: He did do crazy things.

Nancy: What did you think about that when you were courting?

Ruth: Well, I said he does crazy things. He acts out. He tried to do strange things like climb the telephone pole. When we saw a movie that was kind of a gangster movie, he pretended to be a gangster and shoot people. Anyway I did not like that.

But you know what, that didn’t mean I did not like him. I just did not like some of his pranks. I think the law clerks maybe know about some of these pranks. I think it was still in his nature to think of crazy things to do.

Pranksters in the Family

Cindy: So, why don’t you tell me a little bit about his childhood?  Maybe there is something about his childhood that made him a prankster, made him who he was.

Ruth: That’s a good question. I think his mother [Ruth Morey Coffin] was a prankster in a way. I think, well, I should tell about him, because his mother and father [Herbert Rice Coffin] were divorced [in 1931]. And, in those days, that was a very serious thing. But, she graduated from Bates.

First of all, she was very closed-mouthed of talking about—that isn’t a good way of saying it. She was very—Nancy?

Nancy: She just didn’t share; she didn’t talk about personal things.

Ruth: Yes, she didn’t….The marriage did not work. She must have been a prankster herself. Because, the man she married was very fun-loving.  I can see how they had a great time together. But, when it came to serious things, well…

She had a very hard delivery when Frank was born. I would not be surprised if she felt that this married life is not for her. But, she just loved her son! So that’s the way he grew up.

He saw his father once in a while on visits. He does not remember his father at their home where he grew up. He just does not remember doing anything with his father. Only after they were divorced, he’d come and take him for an afternoon on a weekend. He would take him to a gym and have him practice boxing. Then he would try to get him interested in baseball.

Frank was not interested in baseball or boxing. He tolerated it. He did not get to know his father. It was forced. So, pretty soon, he did not come anymore. So he just grew up without a father.

Growing up with Mother and Grandmother

He grew up with his mother [Ruth Morey Coffin], who doted on him. He did have a grandfather [Frank Andrew Morey] and the grandmother [Maude Mildred Morey]. They lived close by [161 Wood Street, Lewiston], and so they were part of the family. He doesn’t remember all that much about his grandfather. I think his grandfather died when he was thirteen, so he didn’t know him as a teenager.

His grandfather [Frank A. Morey, 1863-1933] was a lawyer, a very successful lawyer in Lewiston. He was a politician. He was elected to the [Maine] House of Representatives [1899-1907], and was Speaker of the House [1911-1913], and, the Mayor [of Lewiston, 1907-1912].

Even his grandmother [Maude Morey née Douglas, 1866-1959] was elected, but I don’t think she was a politician. She was an entertainer. She was a member of the Grange and that was a social group.  She would make stories up or read stories, readings she called them. She was a character. Well, they both were characters.

The interesting thing about his growing up was that he had a mother and a grandmother who loved to have fun, and they were always thinking of things to do.

Grammy Ruth

When Grammy Ruth [Ruth Coffin née Morey, 1892-1989] realized that his eyes were set on me and me only, she realized that probably this was serious. Of course, we didn’t tell her about our plans to get married, but she assumed it. But, she would not say it. She was very formal and she would talk a lot about the future as though I weren’t in the picture at all.

She wanted what was best for him, but she wanted to have a little part in making what was best for him happen. An example of that was that she wrote to the dean of the law school. She said she had a son who was very smart and was going to apply, and she hoped that he would think well of him.

Cindy: Now, there was one thing, talking about how she liked to kind of make sure what she wanted to happen happened, was that she bought Frank a 1935 Ford coupe. So, what do you suppose that was about? When was that?

Ruth: Well, while he was in college, e did have a car, and that was a rare thing for anyone in college those days. They didn’t have cars. We had a lot of friends that remember him him. One day, he had the car and he drove it right on the campus for fun! That was naughty.

Cindy: Did he get in trouble for that?

Ruth: No, no.

Big Man on Campus

Everybody loved him on campus…The professors all thought he was brilliant and they encouraged him. And, he got straight A’s. He felt he could do no wrong. Everybody thought he could do no wrong. So, you can imagine how I felt, that this superhero of the Bates College Class of 1940 was interested in little old me from Bloomfield, New Jersey.

But, it wasn’t the only thing about my career in Bates.  I made wonderful girlfriends and we just had very, very fun time. All of my girlfriends found their husbands at Bates. It was not unusual to find a husband at college in those days. And, we all did. There weren’t many divorces either. So, I don’t know what the answer to that is. I think there are too many choices today.

Lutheran to United Baptist

Cindy: Tell us about what you were studying.

Ruth: Well I wanted to know about everything, and I can remember, not that I studied religion, but I do remember at the first religion class. I grew up as a Lutheran and I was very tied to that because I thought I should be…I went to a confirmation class and I can remember hearing things that that minister told, that I just couldn’t believe were true about angels and heaven and Jesus dying.

Dr. [Raymond L.] Zerby, who was the religion teacher, he just opened my eyes one day when he said that, talking about Jesus, he said the Apostles Creed, where you have to swear, “I believe in God the Father, God the Son, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.” And, he said that comma [after “Pontius Pilate”] is the only important thing about Jesus and it didn’t matter about any of the rest of it. That made a big difference in my feeling about religion.

Cindy: So, afterwards, how did you feel?

Ruth: I opened my eyes and I feel that I don’t have to be a Lutheran anymore, I can be Baptist if I want to. And so I did go to the Baptist church, which was a very liberal church. Nobody tried to tell me about angels and, anyway.

Cindy: Is that the church that the Coffins went to?

Ruth: Yes. And, so did a lot of the Bates College professors, the administration, and the students. That was really the church that they went to.

Rev. Robert Towner and Family

Another thing that happened going to that church was we had a minister that married us and who had been there for a long time, resigned, and they had to find another minister, which they did. And, I forget what his name was, but then that person left and then the second minister, or maybe it was the third, was Bob Towner [Rev. Robert W. Towner, in Lewiston 1952 to 1955].

Our family and his family just grew to care about each other. They were the best friends we had in Lewiston and the children played with each other. They were girls and they played with Nancy, well, mostly Nancy. And, we were close friends.

He was a restless young man and he thought he could go further than Lewiston, Maine, and so he left us. I thought to myself, “Oh, we’ll never see him again.”

But, you know what?  They came back every year to Maine. The organist of the church that we were going to owned a house on Bailey Island near Harpswell, part of Harpswell, and they used that cottage. We’ve seen them just about every summer. They were dear friends.

From the Beaches of New Jersey to Coastal Maine

Coming to Lewiston from Bloomfield, New Jersey, was such a change of scenery that I still can’t get over it in a way. I had never known that the ocean can be like it is. When I lived in Bloomfield with my family, the only ocean we knew were the beaches on Long Island, like Long Beach. That’s where we would go in the summertime.

We never stayed overnight. I used to think, “Why can’t we stay overnight and not have to get up the next morning and pack a lunch again and go down for another day.” But, my father was counting his pennies and saving money. He couldn’t afford whatever it would cost to rent a little cottage.

Here I mentioned this [the Coffin] family, which not only has a cottage, but this cottage at South Harpswell. That first time he took me down, it wasn’t the cottage that attracted me. I think it was the terrain, going down that little road from Lewiston and then ending up as we got closer and closer to the water.

That was when I realized that the ocean didn’t have to be rollers that you had to jump into and get beyond before you can go swimming. Here was this relatively calm piece of water that was also the ocean. And, no sandy beach, just pebbly beach. It was so different, and I was charmed by it. I liked the houses that we passed, I liked the terrain, I loved every bit of it. And, it just so happened that Frank loved it, too. He wanted me to know what he loved.

The Inheritance

When his grandfather died, his mother and his grandmother inherited the cottage [at Harpswell, ME] and a farm that he owned in Virginia. I don’t know how much money it was, but they thought they had lots of money.

They had never been in charge of the finances, and they just thought there was money there. So they just spent money. One thing they wanted to do for Frankie, they called him Frankie, was to give him a boat. [Bought a boat named for his mother, “Ruth.”]

Ruth’s Magna Cum Laude

I majored in sociology and it was kind of a new topic then. It wasn’t the most popular major, but I was drawn to that. I did some field work with somebody who was head of the Child Welfare Department of Maine. Anyway, that was my major.

Then I had a choice when I was going to be a senior. My grades were good, but they weren’t brilliant. I mean, they were brilliant enough…I had the offer of instead of a course when I was a senior, I could do a thesis and that would be counted as a course.

That’s what I chose to do. I chose the subject of “The Family.” I dutifully read a lot about the different kinds of families and I read about the Chinese and the Margaret Mead.  I wrote about the American family, too.  I don’t know whether it was very deep or not, but something about it….Frank helped me, too. You know, he was interested in what I was doing, even though he was at Harvard at that time.

I had to defend the thesis as just like having a PhD. It’s a thesis, only it was a simple one. Evidently they liked it, because when I got my degree, it was magna cum laude. How about that?

Frank Coffin’s Ambitions

Cindy: Now, reading the volumes, three-volume history that Frank Coffin wrote, he said that in late summer in 1940, “I decided today that I want to be a judge in a high court somewhere, because a judgeship is a meeting ground of theory and practical application. I’m anxious to get to work and see what stuff I am made of.”

Ruth: Oh.

Cindy: Do you remember him talking this way?

Ruth: No, I never heard him talk about being a judge. Did he say that in his memoirs?

Cindy: This is late Summer 1940.

Ruth: Oh, that’s when he graduated….

He [Frank Coffin] was very thorough in putting things down on paper. He knew that when he graduated, he would have to make a decision about what his career would be. So he wrote it down, a teacher, a minister—I don’t think he had businessman down there—but, he had the law down there. Of course, his mother wanted him to be a lawyer and his grandfather had been a lawyer. I think everyone thought that that’s what he would be doing. But, he had to go through the process of making sure that he didn’t really want to be a minister or educator.


On Being A Judge

I don’t remember him ever saying he wanted to be a judge, because I remember when he first, going way ahead, when he was first mentioned, we were overseas. We were in Paris, France when his name was being mentioned to fill the place of the opening. Bailey Aldrich was the only judge on the First Circuit Court of Appeals. That last one [judicial appointment for the First Circuit] had been from New Hampshire, and so now it was Maine’s turn.

We were in Paris and we only heard by telephone and letters how it was going. When he realized that he was being mentioned to take the place of [John Patrick Hartigan], to be on the Circuit Court of Appeals, he had not planned on that. He had been a politician. This was new to him. Maybe he had said that …but we never talked about it. I think it was just an idea….He said, “A judge?” He had not thought about being a judge….He could not have taken it that seriously. I have never heard him mention it until it was proposed.

Cindy: Did he get excited about it?

Ruth: I think he was awed, because I think he respected the judiciary so much and then he got to thinking about it and realizing that he would be his own boss and he would be able to write opinions, make a difference, and it was for life, the security. There were many good things about being a judge, besides doing a good job.

Harvard Law School (1940-1941)

Cindy: Now we’re going to jump back to he’s gone off to Harvard Law School.

Ruth: Yes.

Cindy: That sounded good. But, it’s 1941.

Ruth: Yes. There is a war on, and he knows that we will get into it. We weren’t into it, but he knew that we would, and that he’d better be prepared. He did finish one year of law school. I must say, I don’t know whether he said this in his memoirs or not, but when the end of the term came, he did not make law review….

He never said, “This is a big disappointment.” Really everything had been so easy for him. He had straight A’s, everybody loved him. He was clever and humorous and popular. At Harvard Law School he was up against the best of minds…Well, whatever happened, he didn’t make the law review. But, that didn’t mean anything, did it? He made his way and he made a name for himself.

Getting Married

Cindy: Yes, he sure did. Now, I would like to know about your honeymoon because that sounds like a good story there….Tell us about your wedding.

Ruth: We wanted to be married as soon as possible. My father thought that you don’t get married unless you have an income. He would not have approved if it had not been for the war.  Frank had not enlisted….I don’t think they would’ve prevented us, because they knew we were going to get married one way or the other.

The sooner the better we felt, after I had graduated and I had gotten a job. I had trained to be a social worker for the state child welfare. I had been assigned to prepare for it in Augusta. I was there with some friends who were also doing the same thing. We had a nice time in Augusta learning how to be a child welfare worker.

I learned my lessons and I was dutiful, but my heart wasn’t in it. My heart was with Frank and he was in Boston. I went down there as often as I could. We finally said, “There’s nothing to stop us from getting married now.”

Everybody was doing it, and so we did plan it. By this time he had enlisted, and we didn’t know what the future would be. We thought we had better just get the wedding over with. That’s about the way we thought about it.

I did not care what kind of a wedding I had.  I just wanted to get married. But we knew that Grammie Ruth would appreciate having her only son be married at Bates in Lewiston. So that was the place that we were going to do it. We knew who we would have, Pastor Vernon, who was our minister. We knew where we would do it, at the chapel of Bates. Then we were going to invite all of Grammie’s friends and she would love this.

We began getting wedding gifts and it was a real wedding. But, you know, my heart was not in it. It was not, I don’t know, I thought it was all a show. Isn’t that awful to feel that way? My heart was not in it and I think we both felt that way. We had to do this in order to be married and for Grammie Ruth.

Twenty Degrees below Zero

My poor family had to come from Bloomfield, New Jersey, and it was the middle of winter. It was 20 degrees below zero out there and we had to go through a wedding. My father and mother came, my young brother and my little sister, they were just children, and they came. My siblings were all there. They were bridesmaids.

I had a wedding dress. I had a formal portrait taken of me in this wedding dress. And what else did I do? You could see my heart was not in all the trimmings, but I knew it was good for Grammie Ruth. I got a lot of presents. They mostly were duplicates, but some were good.

Nancy: And, wasn’t your father sick?

Ruth: My father wasn’t feeling well. He had a cold, and it was no favor to him to come. But, he had to do it, his Ruth, you know. It was for me and so he did it. And, then Grace had hurt her leg playing basketball or something and her leg was in a bandage and so she wasn’t feeling very well.

Art was just a little boy, and my sister Helen had just had a baby. She got married before I did and I was jealous. She had a baby and she left that child when he was only two months old to come to my wedding. She was worried about that. Muriel, I think must have come from somewhere. She was still at Bates, and so they were there.

We had a reception at the Dewitt Hotel, which was the only hotel that would serve [liquor]. There was no dancing, no singing. My sisters could stand up for me, be bridesmaids; that was no problem. But, we had to find three gentlemen for Frank, and he had to find his roommate. He called his roommate from college Earle Zeigler and he was best man. Then there were four other friends, people he knew, but it wasn’t his best friends, because it was wartime.

We had a reception after the wedding in the chapel of Bates College. We greeted our guests out in the foyer, and it was so cold that everybody was eager to get out of there and get home and be in the warmth of their home. I did have a wrap, but I was cold. Everybody was cold.


Chilly Honeymoon on Quaker Ridge

Finally, the wedding was over and then we went back to Wood Street, where the house was, Frank’s house, and we changed our clothes. This was all formal, and I wanted to do everything proper, because that’s what I was supposed to do. I got all dressed up as though I were going to a hotel in Boston, but we couldn’t afford a hotel in Boston and nobody was willing to pay for it for us. The only offer we had to go for our wedding night was a farmhouse in Greene.

Our minister owned a farmhouse, but of course, he only used it in the summertime. He went out and put a fire in so it would warm up a little bit at noon. But, of course, it still was very cold. We have a picture of me with a hat and gloves and dressed in silk stockings. I was ready to be seen in the nightclubs of Boston, and all I did was to go to this farmhouse and get cold. The only room we could use was where there was a wood stove.

However, we managed. We spent most of the time cutting wood to replace the wood that we burned. We hated to use up all the wood for Dr. Vernon for the next summer. We decided we would go home a little early. We went back early and were comfortable. Then it was lovely.

Wedding Night in a Ditch

It was not snowy out, but it was very cold. The road was just a single path almost and it was icy, not snowy. I said, “Oh, Frank, aren’t you doing well?”

And, just about when I said that, he skidded off the road. His front wheels went into the gutter on this side, and the rear wheels were there. Here we were in the middle of nowhere on our wedding night. It could not have been worse.

But, it wasn’t that bad. We looked ahead and we could see some lights. There was a house beyond…We went up to this house, knocked on the door. Inside there was an old woman and three strong men. And, we said, “We’re stuck! We have to get help. What do we do?”

We were very pitiful. So they said, “Oh, we can do it.”

They put on their clothes, these great big heavy farm boys. They went down and they jiggled it, jiggled it and sure enough, they got it back on the track. Can you think of anything worse on a wedding night?

Cindy: And, it was really, really cold.

Ruth: It was really, really cold.

Cindy: That was dangerous.

Ruth: That fireplace, if it had any heat, it was gone. So, we started a fire…We had to work hard. But, we had a nice, toasty bedroom anyway.

Ensign Coffin Joins the Navy

We were married in December, and he didn’t leave until Thanksgiving, November. We had nine months that we could live together as a married couple and this is what we wanted. I could go with him where he was stationed. It was an interesting life.

When he became an ensign, after he’d done his studies, his first appointment was to Portsmouth [NH]. And, so we lived in Portsmouth for about four months. Then he was moved to someplace in Florida. That was the first time I had ever been south of Atlantic City in my life, an experience.

We found a little place in somebody’s home.  He stayed there maybe two months. Then he was moved to South Florida and where we met friends.

It was just one place to another. I think the next place was Rhode Island. We thought, “Oh, maybe this is where he’s going to be permanently.”

They were just pushing him around because they didn’t know what to do with him. Finally, he was sent to Hoboken, New Jersey where he was commissioned. They finally decided that he would be stationed to a merchant vessel that was being reconditioned. A ship devoted to parts for the airplanes in the war, “U.S.S. Supply.”

He was assigned to the U.S.S. Supply in Hoboken, New Jersey. He and two or three other military people were aboard. But, the rest were all the merchant marines. They were sailing their vessel to Hawaii to be commissioned into the U.S.S. Supply. And, so that was his job.

We stayed with my parents in New Jersey. Every morning, he would go to the boat and come back. This went on for about a week. Finally on Thanksgiving Day in November, he went… We knew it would be a long time and it was.

Two Long Years Apart

I took a deep breath and said, “I’ll get through this.” Thanks goodness for writing letters and we did. I had forgotten how many we wrote, but we saved them all. We had been reading them. I am really proud of my letters. I guess I did a good job. That is all I had to do.

Staying with my parents, I had to find something to do, so I volunteered. I was with a child welfare group of children, taking care of them, and my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t know what to do with kids, and so I just didn’t stay with that job very long.

I went to the cottage for the summer, anyway. It was nice to be with Grammie Ruth and Grammie Maude. They welcomed me in the cottage and we had a good time for the summer.

In the fall, I had a telephone call from Mrs. Meerman [check this] who was the wife of one of my professors. She knew my background, that I was a child welfare worker. She thought maybe I would be good for a job that was opening up in Lewiston with the Red Cross. I was going to be the home service secretary of the American Red Cross in Lewiston.

I had a uniform and I said, “Sure,” because I had no other plans. That was a lifesaver in a way. It brought an income and I did a lot of good work. It was difficult, but I did it. And, living with Grammie Ruth and Grammie Maude was an experience. We got along real well, and we talked about Frankie. And, I had some friends, so it worked out.

My lifeline was the letters that we wrote. I wrote more frequently than he did, and he did not write as long a letter as most of my girlfriends whose husbands were overseas, had simple little letters. I tried to console myself that mine were not as frequent, but they were full. It is true. Knowing Judge Coffin, you can imagine how he wrote in great detail what he was doing from the boat.

Shipboard Comedy

One of the things that they did while they were being reconditioned, they had to clean the inside of the boat and make it spic and span and other things. There was not much else to do.

I hope it was something Frank thought of, but maybe it was just a group thinking of it, but he was the director. They put on a show and he thought up the texts, the little incidents. They were kind of silly, but they were very laughable and he wrote all about this. At the end he said, “And, it was a wonderful experience to stand at the back of this great big room,” (I guess it was where the cargo was going to go) “and to have people laugh at the jokes” (that he had made up and put into the script). He said that was a treat.

He was happy doing that and that took quite a while. He was there for almost the rest of the year. I forget when he set sail, but finally it was commissioned and they sailed to the South Pacific.

South Pacific Stories

I have many letters from the South Pacific and stories of how it was on the ship. And, I wrote back to him, not much to say, but I somehow filled those letters with the little things that he wanted to hear. So, I think it’s a good correspondence we had.

Finally, he was relieved of his duty, but he couldn’t leave until his replacement came….We waited and we waited and we waited.  I think that person who was supposed to take his place deliberately got lost so that he didn’t have to go. It took him a long time to arrive, but finally he arrived at the ship and Frank was free to come home. This was in the fall of ’45. He was gone two years.

Homecoming and Home Cooking

I was home. I had given up my job because I did not know when he was coming home, when he would get there, but I knew he was coming. I had gone home to be with my parents, and that is where I was waiting for him. Finally, finally, finally, he came.

Cindy: And, then you, what did you do then?

Ruth: This was just before Christmas, and we went back to Lewiston for Christmas. No, I guess I had Christmas home, I don’t know what went—but, anyway, of course, we wanted to get to see Grammie Ruth, too. He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to finish law school.

Cindy: Was that easy to do, to just go back into school?

Ruth: Oh, yes. We had to find a place to stay in Boston, and so we found a place. It was housing for the Harvard students, housing complex. This was the first time I’d ever kept house, because I had helped my mother, I guess, and Grammie Ruth didn’t need help. She didn’t offer it and I didn’t help her cook.

I was a novice. I hadn’t learned how to cook. I made mistakes. That surprised me that I couldn’t put on a meal, but I learned the hard way. My sister, Helen, came to see me and she came for lunch. I did not think, “Well, what do I have to do for lunch now?”

I didn’t know what to do. She said, “Well, do you have a store around?” And, I said, “Yes,” and she said, “Well, why don’t we go up and get a can of tuna fish and we’ll make sandwiches.” So, that was the first time I entertained anybody. Funny, isn’t it?

I had another experience. I invited one of his professors to have tea. I don’t think it was a meal even, but I made a cake. I went to the store and I had the recipe and it said, “Baking powder.” I didn’t know that baking powder is always double-acting baking powder. I said, “Oh, this is double-acting so I only need to use half.” And, so that was another learning experience. So, that was the beginning of my homemaking.

Connecting with the Coffin Clan

This was a time when one day, it was Shaler Lane where we lived, we had a knock on the door, and there was a woman [Bertha Coffin Kaulback], and she said, “Frank Coffin, I’m your cousin.” She had known about Frank, I mean knew who he was because Frank’s mother never said anything about the other side of his family. In other words, his father had a family, too, and so this was the daughter of Frank’s father’s brother, his uncle.

She and her husband became dear friends over the years. And also his sister’s [family]—his father had a brother and a sister. And, so this was the sister who was married to a person named [Ralph] Kaulback [who married Herbert’s sister Bertha] and they had a full family, and a happy family. We enjoyed their company very much. Those cousins that he found within that family remained close friends until they died. It was an enriching experience to find cousins that he never knew he had.

When we were in college, one of the things that he did to court me was to invite me to dinner at the local hotel. And, that was something unusual at Bates; you did not usually do that. But, this was special and so I felt he really, really wants me, you know. This was great, and we got to talking. He told me how his mother and father were divorced and how he saw him once in a while when they were growing up. He has no memory of ever having him in the house.

But, he said, “He lives here. He’s running the cafeteria [Cushco Cafeteria] in the Cushman Company.” He knew about his father, but he had no interest in looking him up after he had come back.

I encouraged him and I said, “You know, you should, he’s your father. Why don’t you? You know, things are different now. You’re not a little boy.” So he decided that he’d go and see his father.

Of course, his father was delighted that he made the overture, and so we got to know—this is when we were living in Lewiston—and, so we got to know him. We found out that he has a brother [Jack Coffin]. The brother is fifteen years younger than Frank and fifteen years older than Douglas. He’s right in between. Douglas has become very fond of Jack, the brother. That was another dimension that opened up. Life was getting more interesting.

From Law School to Lewiston

Nancy: How did he decide what he was going to do after he graduated from law school? What did he consider?

Ruth: He interviewed some big firm in Boston. I forget which one it was, but his heart was not in that. I think he did that perfunctorily. He really wanted to come back to Lewiston and be a lawyer, a real lawyer. That’s what we were planning to do, so that’s what we did.

Nancy was three months old. We put her in the car. There were no such things as car seats in those days. She was in her cradle. It could have fallen off the backseat easily. But, we went very slowly.

Grammie Ruth had found a house for us, or Grammie Maude, and said, “Well, that house is for sale and it’s only $10,000. It is right close by and you should have it.” So  we had it, and I said, “Fine.” We went to 26 Mountain Avenue [Lewiston, ME]. Nancy, she was the only one that was born in Boston. The others were born in Maine and that began life together.

Clerkship with Judge Clifford (1947 – 1949)

Nancy: And, when did the clerkship come into the picture?

Ruth: He had help from his family. Grammie Maude said, “You know, Judge Clifford is a new judge. For the first time, they are allowed to have a law clerk. He would like to know whether you would like to be his law clerk.”

This is Grammie Maude who did that. That was wonderful.  Judge Clifford was a brand new judge, federal judge, and he didn’t know what to do any more than Frank did. So, the two of them worked it all out together.  I think he probably got his first feelings of what it is like to be a judge working for him.

The one thing I remember is that he wasn’t very busy. I don’t think they had much to do. He was sent to New York City to help out in a trial. He went down there for a—I don’t think it was very long, but New York City. I thought that was great, because I had Douglas now and Nancy, and I can go home to my parents and have a nice visit with them. Frank went to New York City every day and did what he was supposed to do for Judge Clifford.

I can remember mother babysat and we went to New York City just to have a nice dinner all by ourselves, which was a treat. We went to some hotel dining room and had a beautiful meal. I described it in detail, and said, “Oh, it was so expensive. We spent $17 on that.” Can you imagine, two meals?

Law Practice in Lewiston

This was a learning experience for him. He put everything he had into [it]. He joined the Elks Club and the Kiwanis. He wanted to be known. He wanted to build up his practice.

He was fortunate, because a lawyer [Ralph Lancaster] who had been a lawyer in town, had gone to be in charge of the Poland Springhouse in Poland Spring. He didn’t have time for his practice at home, but he had an office with his secretary. It just cried to have a lawyer in the back room. So he said, “Would you like to take over the office for me?” I think he gave it to him.

Nancy: Which lawyer was that?

Cindy: Was it Fred Lancaster?

Ruth: Ralph Lancaster.

Cindy: Ralph?

Ruth: Yes, Ralph.

Cindy: Ralph Lancaster.

Ruth: Yes. He had been Grammie Ruth’s lawyer, too….Then we made friends. That’s when he met Shep Lee and got into politics.

Politically Speaking

He [Frank Coffin] made speeches all this his life. He was taught in high school, he was on the debating team, and in college he was a debater also, and he was good at it. He could argue and he had facts, and he was a great, he was an orator, he loved to give speeches. He had a way with words and he prepared every speech he had, every one of them…

Cindy: So, that got him involved in politics in Maine.

Ruth: Yes, that’s what happened. He was making speeches on many subjects. He acted as though he knew a lot about everything, and people looked up to him and thought of him when they needed speeches.

One of his subjects was how the Democrats in Maine were weak. They didn’t have any organization to help them become more powerful. They didn’t put up candidates that were getting elected. Most intelligent people who had leanings to be Democrats were enrolled as Republicans so that they’d have something to say about the primary. That was what I was told. And, so he made sure that everybody knew he was in town.

Building the Maine Democratic Party

Frank was making lots of speeches and people were noticing him, including the Democratic Party. They thought it was a good idea if he could be of help to the Democratic Party. Frank thought so, too, but he didn’t think he could play a part. He just made speeches about it.

Don Nicoll, who was alert, was working for the paper, or was it the radio station [WLAM radio in Lewiston, Maine]. They became friends and Don said, “Frank, you can’t just make speeches, you’ve got to do something.”

He encouraged him to do it. So he decided that, well, maybe he should. He offered to do the platform for the next political meeting.

The Chairman of the Democratic Party announced one day that Frank Coffin was going to make the platform. He hadn’t been asked, and he was miffed. He said, “Nobody has a right to pronounce that I was going to do something when I haven’t told them, ‘Yes.’”

I had to calm him down then and say, “Well, this is what you wanted anyway. Just forget that it was not done correctly, and just be grateful that he wants you.” So he decided, “Yes,” he guessed he will, because he loved to do things like that. He wrote down the best platform that the Democrats had had in a long, long time, and then he got other people to help him do things.

Don Nicoll said, “The first thing you need to do is to have your own headquarters, and not just do it from your office.” They did decide to rent a place and they raised money. They did not raise much, but they raised enough so that Don could be paid for a couple of months anyway.

I remember that Hilda [Nicoll] was dismayed when he [Don Nicoll] said he was going to give up his job that paid good money and raise it for the Democratic Party. But, that’s what he did. He sacrificed and helped him  do what he was supposed to do, what he wanted to do.

The two of them together worked hard. They visited people who were Democrats in heart, even though they had not voted that way. These included important people in the community, like the president of Bowdoin and I think most college presidents. I’m not sure about Bates, but anyway, so they just worked, they worked hard.

Ed Muskie Becomes Governor 1956

Cindy: Who won the race for governor?

Ruth: Well, Muskie did.  They never thought that he was going to win because they had only started. They did all of this over five or six months. They did not have anybody to run for Congress, so they had to get people to do that. And, for, what else is there?

Nancy: Was there a Senate seat?

Ruth: Senator, yes. They put up a full calendar, a full ballot. What is the word?

Nancy: It’s slate.

Ruth: Slate, a full slate.

I should tell you how Frank and Ed Muskie met. They both were Bates graduates but they really were not friendly, and they did not live in the same community. I think Muskie is the one who, knowing that Frank was working with the Democratic Party, thought it was time that they met each other and talked it over and see what they could do together. He invited us to their camp on a lake.

Nancy: China Lake.

Ruth: I can remember that visit, not that I was in on the talking.  They decided that they were going to work together and see if they could do something to build up the Democratic Party. And, Ed Muskie had had a bad fall when he was painting or doing something in his house. He fell down the stairs and hurt his back. He was in a cast of some kind.

Congressional Ceremonies and Utter Disarray

When Frank was sworn in as a Congressman, it was a big event. I wanted to go and asked Hilda [Nicoll] whether she would take care of the children while I drove the car and went down to be there when Frank was sworn in as a new Congressman. And, so that happened, and it was thrilling.

I was eager to go, get back, pick up my children from Hilda’s house. We got into the car and we were on our way home, going through the intersection where two roads went in separate ways into double lanes. I was in the middle of the road and wanted to go right, but I was not in the right lane. I went anyway and was pulled over by a policeman.

Nancy: A Maryland policeman.

Ruth: I was in the wrong lane, and he was the one who had to evade me. It could not have been worse. He was mean, I think he was mean. Instead of just giving me a ticket, he had me come to the

station. I had four children in the car…

I said, “I’m a Congressman’s wife. I am not used to this.” At home, we did not have two lanes like this.  I acted like an utter fool, I suppose. I do not know whether he wanted to be mean or what, but he took me into the station. I was in tears and all of you children were crying. They did not care. I really do not know how it ended. 

Nancy: You had to pay a fine or something?

Ruth: I do not know how it ended. They must have somehow agreed that we could have a ticket but not before we were in utter disarray.

Cindy: Oh, dear. That’s hard to forget.

Ruth: Yes.

Cindy: That would be hard to forget.

Ruth: That was my introduction to living in Washington.

Cindy: Wow.

Life as a Congressman

Cindy: So, did Frank like his role as a Congressman?

Ruth: Oh, he loved it, yes. He put everything he had into being the best Congressman that he knew how to be. He had letters home and made speeches and worked well with the other Congressmen. We got to know them all. It did not matter whether they were Republicans or Democrats. Some of his best friends were Republicans, the ones from Boston that were Republicans.

He did make friends with the Republicans. It was bipartisan through and through. And, then he had the achievements, the things that he paid attention to. What he liked to do is to do something thoroughly. One of the first things he did was do a study of our relationship with Canada. He was on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he made a report on Canadian relationships.

He went overseas. He went to Europe to wherever the Common Market was, had interviews and studies. He was very, very content, very happy as a Congressman. He was doing things that he knew what to do about or least wanted to learn about.

Cindy: So, it seems that now he has four children, and he’s off in Europe or he’s working late, night after night in Congress. And, somebody’s got to keep the whole family together. Now, who was that?

Ruth: Well, I wonder.

Cindy: I wonder how you did it.

Meeting the Queen of England

Ruth: Well, I just did it. I think the children were happy in Washington. Susan was the one that I had to pay most attention to because she would need a babysitter when I went out. I had things that I liked to do, too. I became very good friends with Eleanor McGovern, because George McGovern was elected the same time Frank was. They lived in Maryland, which not far away from where we lived.

One thing I did was to join the Democratic Women’s Club. I just joined, or maybe you had to be asked. I’m not sure. Anyway, I joined the Democratic Women’s Club and Eleanor McGovern and I would go together to their meetings. It was a great opportunity to meet people, speakers like Eleanor Roosevelt and other famous people.

Cindy: So, you liked being in Washington?

Ruth: We had wonderful experiences. One of the things that I do think is kind of exciting…all the Democrats were invited to the Queen of England’s birthday party. It was a big reception and we were invited to meet the King and Queen of England and then have a reception afterwards.

Eleanor and I went together and I think Susan was in school by then or maybe I got a babysitter for her. It’s a vivid memory of being in this reception room and seeing the people who were about to greet the Queen, go like that, you know. I watched the others greeting the Queen and geared myself up to what I would say or do when I had my turn to greet the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth. I finally got there and I did not want to curtsy. Other people curtsied, but I just kind of nodded my head and looked as though I am honoring you….

I said, “This is a pleasure,” and she greeted me, too. Then I greeted the husband, the Prince, and well, it was not exactly a thrill, but it was something important. I felt that I was being well-treated.

Then we went out, Eleanor and I, and we could have joined the group where they were milling around, having little tasty bits of things to eat. But, school was getting out and we had to go home and get our children. We could not stay for the whole time, but just greeting the Queen was a very memorable occasion.

Dancing with John Foster Dulles

I have another memory while he [Frank Coffin] was in Congress. He was on the Foreign Affairs Committee, so we were invited to a special dinner by one of the members of that committee.

One of the outstanding memories of being in Washington: after he was defeated running for governor. He stayed on because Kennedy won. Kennedy won and he wanted to use Frank in his administration. Frank did not want to do some of the things that he wanted him to do or could have done.

One thing that appealed to him was to be Director of the Development Loan Fund. I think it was because he was a Director of the Development Loan Fund that we were invited to this dinner party.

I sat next to John Foster Dulles and somebody named Radcliff. I was out of my element. I really was. I did not know what to say to those two men. Nothing I could say. I wasn’t chatty. I was just very sweet and nice and did not say much of anything. Other people talked and I was there, feeling a little bit helpless.

But, then there was dancing. Oh, boy! “What am I going to do now?” Frank was off somewhere sitting with somebody else. John Foster Dulles, who was the Secretary of State was not very well. He had a sore leg, I think. He was proper. He said, “Do you wish to dance?” I should’ve said, “No, thank you.” But, I didn’t. So, I danced with John Foster Dulles at a dinner party. And, he plodded and plodded and plodded once more, and then we called it quits.

A Courtly Night at the White House

He [President Gerald Ford] thought it would be great to honor the judiciary. I do not know what made him think that way, but he did. He invited the Chief Judges of all the circuits and their spouses, and we had a dinner at the White House.

The first thing, we had to find a place to stay while we were there. So, we asked Bob Reich whether we could stay with them, and they agreed we could stay there and he would take us to the White House. He took us to the White House that night, and unfortunately, he had a little Volkswagen bug thing, and there was only two seats. I had to get myself into the crawl space behind the two seats.

I drove up to the White House and there was a handsome young Marine dressed up officially with white gloves to greet us. Frank got out and then turned around and made room for me to get out, and I had to crawl out. I had to stand up straight and neaten my dress and hold up my head. This Marine offered me his arm and I was escorted into the White House.

When we entered to the reception room, we were announced.  There I was in the White House and it was a lot of people that I knew. They were other judges and so forth.

There were a hundred people there, and I felt so comfortable because we knew so many people. So when he [Frank] talked to somebody, he was thorough. We were the last ones to enter the when it was time to go into the dining room. This was the reception room where we were received by the President. Frank was talking with a friend of his chatting with him and talking and talking and talking.  Lo and behold, we were the last ones in the line.

So we went up to Gerald Ford and he said, “Frank!! How are you? I’m glad to see you,” because they knew each other when he was in the Congress. That was kind of nice to be welcomed like that by the President.

During the cocktail hour, Justice Powell was there and I chatted with him. He said, “Did you know that the Foxes are expecting a baby?” And, I thought to myself, I did not know that, of course, and I was saying to myself, “This could have been at home. I just feel much at home, because I even had gossip here.”

Running for Governor, 1960

Cindy: Clearly a big change came when the governor’s race was open and he was asked to run for the 1960 election.

Ruth: This was a difficult decision to make, whether he should run or not. He was very happy as a Congressman, and felt that he could certainly contribute to the Congress. But, then he was torn, because the State of Maine said that he was the one that could win most easily. And, so finally, he decided to give up his job with the Congress, and run for the governorship.

He put everything he had into that and he wanted to do a thorough job of what he would do as a governor. He  had help from many people, especially Jean Sampson. She did a superb job of explaining what his program was to help the State of Maine continue to grow and fare well.

It is a race that Frank lost as we all know. And, you wonder why, because he put so much knowledge into his platform and to what he wanted to do.

You have to realize that it was the first time that the State of Maine was voting for president with every other state. Up until then, we had our September elections, and we were unique. And, a lot of people did not bother to go out and vote.

But, this time, it was a Catholic who was running for president. The people up in Aroostook County were all Republicans. They were not Catholic and they did not want to have a Catholic in the White House. For a lot of reasons, they did not pay attention to all the good work that Frank did in preparing a platform and a program. For some reason, they did not vote for him.

The President Wants You

After it was over, President Kennedy called and said, “Frank, we got the vote out, but unfortunately, you didn’t get quite enough to make you win. But, I would like to have you in my administration. We will see what we can do.” That was very reassuring, because we were happy in Washington. The fact that maybe we could stay in Washington for a little while longer made everyone in the family happy.

We were content but now the problem was what was he going to do? They said, “Do you want to be a representative to the United Nations?” No, that means leaving Washington, and he wouldn’t want that.

“You want to be Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relationships?” No, he has had enough of Congress, did not want that. And, there were other things that they thought maybe he would like to do. But, finally, they said, “How about the Development Loan Fund, which is an organization that helps other countries. It’s fund-giving so that we can help develop nations.”

That sounded pretty good. He said, “Yes, that’s what I’d like to do. I’ve always been interested in funding, helping other countries and aid to other countries.” So that is what he was appointed to do.

Development Loan Fund Director: A Slippery Slope

This was a kind of a nice job because it was a head of an agency. He had a chauffeur assigned to him, so he did not have to drive a car in downtown. The first day he was made Development Loan Fund Director, and the chauffeur came to the house to pick him up, it was a snowy day.

We lived on a slight incline and the chauffeur, after he entered Frank into the car in the back, he started to go up the hill. It was not easy. It was slipping back, slipping back. He needed some help. So, Frank got out of the rear of the car and went behind the car and began to push and pushed. Finally, the car caught and they were able to continue. We thought to ourselves, the neighbors were looking for his going into a chauffeured drive. They must have had a chuckle to themselves.

The Development Loan Fund existed…a number of months. I don’t think it was a year that he had that job. President Kennedy wanted to combine the Development Loan Fund, which just takes care of the money, with the workers who were in the different countries. He wanted to combine those two agencies and make it just one, U.S. Aid. So that is what he did.

Off to Paris and the OECD

The Development Loan Fund no longer existed so he had to think of something else. We still wanted to stay in Washington if we could. Finally, somebody suggested that there was an opening in Paris, France, with the development of OECD. The OECD was part of the merger and it was going to be called OECD.

Cindy: Organization for Economic and Community Development.

Ruth: Yes. That appealed to him, the fact that we as a family could go to France was very appealing. He thought he would be a minister, which is a high position, and so we would be treated well, although that did not matter so much. But, he just knew that he would be charge of something, and so we agreed to that. That led to almost two years of being able to live in Paris, France. It was a precious time for us as a family in many ways.

All of the children were happy there, except Susan. Susan, we thought she was young enough to learn the language and not have to worry about graduating. She was the one that we sent to Ecole Bilingue [School of Two Languages] which was helping English-speaking students learn in French. She found it difficult, so she was not all that happy.

The others were at the American School in Paris. All of their friends there were from other countries, mostly American. So they could make friends easily and they were taught in English. Nancy was a junior when we went there and so the next year when we were still there, she was off to college. Douglas had been a sophomore and so he was still there when we had to go.

We were there in Paris for two summers and one school year. And, that is how I like to think of it. Douglas persuaded us that he did not want to graduate from any other place but the American School of Paris, and so we said, “Okay.” The minister’s wife agreed. She said they had plenty of extra rooms in the house that they had, because they were used to taking in people in trouble.

Douglas had the minister and his wife for his host and hostess. They left him pretty much alone. He was not overlooked.  He was not treated with any great care, but he had a good time, too. And, he was glad to graduate

The First Circuit Court of Appeals: Fait Accompli

We had rumors at the end of that summer, the second summer. There were rumors about an opening in the judgeship in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and who was being thought of to be nominated. Frank’s name was coming up and there was much discussion.

The only way we knew about this. Libby Donahue kept us up-to-date, and I forget who else, but mostly we just heard it. His name was being mentioned. I remember when he first thought that this could be a reality, that he would be appointed to the federal court, the First Circuit Court of Appeals, he began to think about it and he felt that, “Well, I’ve never thought of being a judge.”

Maybe he had it down a long time ago that he wanted to be a judge. But I think that must have been very perfunctory, because this time he really was considering it. He thought to himself, “Oh, he could do that. He would love to do that, to really see how it’s done and how important it is.” So that intrigued him and he realized that he would love it….

I guess he was not really appointed. He had to come to the U.S. to be sworn in. He left Paris and came here to Washington, and walked into the hearing room wondering how this was going to go. The  judge who was going to swear him in said, “Good morning, Judge.” And, here he was, not even sworn in yet. So it was kind of a fait accompli.

That shows you how different it is from today when someone like Judge Kermit Lipez had to wait a year and a half or more before he could be confirmed [October 1997 to April 1998]. And, I guess nobody gets it done as quickly as that. How times have changed… 

A House with a View

A whole new era opens up. While he was here in the U.S. to be confirmed, he said, “Where should we live?”

He asked Bailey Aldrich, the judge.“Do I look for a place somewhere here in Boston?” He didn’t know that as a judge from the State of Maine, he could live in Maine… He did not have to leave Maine. We could stay right here in Portland. He knew so little about it….He came up to Maine and Cindy Wernick, one of our dear friends, and I guess other people helped him, too, to decide. 

They contacted a realtor to see what housing there would be in Maine, in Portland for him, and he saw three houses. One of them was a split-level house in Broad Cove in Cape Elizabeth, and another one was a downtown house on the western promenade that looked very much like the one on Mountain Avenue that we were living in [in Lewiston, Maine] with an alley and garage in the back. Then he had another one, and this one he took pictures of.

This one was on the water and it overlooked the harbor. The only trouble was it did not look very well cared for. There was charcoal all over the fireplace and it had not been cleaned. There was a hole in the middle of linoleum in the kitchen. The painting, needed to be painted and the floors were shabby. He did not know whether that would please me.

He came back to France and he showed me those pictures. He showed me the other two houses, or told me about the other two houses. And, I said to him, “You mean you’re debating about this? Well, what’s wrong with that? Let’s take the house with the view.” He agreed, of course.

I think he was teasing me, bringing the other two, because this was absolutely, well… We just can’t believe our luck, really, really, really. It has been a joy, every minute. It is a well-built house, and it was six bedrooms, because the [in the] upstairs and the attic….were rooms that could have been used for bedrooms. Five bedrooms on the second floor, each one with a bathroom, and we were happy.

When we got here, Nancy was not here, Douglas was not here. Meredith and Susan were the only two. We had a pleasant boat ride home. It was a tour boat and so we were ready for the new experience of this house. The State of Maine made us feel good, too. We saw the house for the first time, and there was a slight snowfall. Susan wrote on the porch in the snow, “I am so happy.” She was the only one who really was happy. Meredith did not want to say good bye to all her friends in France. But, she soon was acclimated and we had a wonderful life here.

Family of Law Clerks

The best part of the life here was having law clerks to come, a fresh batch every year. Each one was precious. It was very easy to think of things to do with them and entertain them. They were part of the family. I always felt that coming to Portland and being with the Judge gave them an insight, a valuable insight into helping them do what they were intended to do, to be good judges. 

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