Abigail Brooks

Abigail Brooks

Born 1946

Abigail Brooks. Courtesy of Nan Haffenreffer.

I first met Abigail Brooks at the Little Compton Food coop when I moved here full time in the early ’80s. We have been close friends since then. When I heard the Little Compton Historical Society was gathering information on “Women in Little Compton,” I knew I wanted to write about Abigail. I confess that I used the questions my great niece Rose Manning put together when she interviewed me.

Abigail Brooks was born in 1946 to Samuel and Martha Brooks and raised in Manchester, NH. She was one of 5 kids. And was nicknamed “Groobie,” derived out of Grubby.  She liked school, playing kickball and softball, really enjoyed nighttime play in the quiet outside during and after a good snowstorm, and watching TV at the homes of friends who had them (her family never did) and returning home to her mother who would comment that she had “TV eyes!”

After graduating from college in Pittsburgh, PA she moved to Philadelphia and worked in the Photography Department at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The long front staircase leading to the museum entrance was made famous in a scene in the movie “Rocky.”  On her first day of work, she climbed those stairs and looked out over the City with pride at having landed a job in such a prestigious place. She was taking photography lessons and exploring whether she might make a profession with it. But she soon realized she didn’t want to spend the necessary time in a darkroom breathing the chemicals used to develop film.

As a child growing up in NH, her family spent summers in a small cabin at the end of a dirt road with no electricity or running water.  With that in her background she realized that being outdoors working was of real interest.  She contacted a friend employed with the newly formed office of the Environmental Protection Agency.  When she interviewed for a field biology position that was open, she was told during the interview that, because she was female, she was ineligible.  These jobs were filled exclusively by men, and “what would their wives say about their working in the field with a WOMAN?”–an example of the discrimination that was common practice in the early 1970s.  So she took a job as a “houseparent” for 13 adolescent girls in the custody of the State, in a remarkably beautiful setting outside the city.

She met the man she would marry, Nick Long, at about the time she had had enough of city living and was ready to move back to New England to be near her family.  During a trip to the Cape for a friend’s wedding, Nick succeeded in securing a job in Providence and moved to Rhode Island to begin looking for a house for the two of them.  A Philadelphia friend had learned of his move and told him about a farm in a town called Little Compton where you parked in the farm field and walked from there to a beautiful beach (Goosewing).  From an ad in the Providence Journal he found the East Main Rd. Jennings farmhouse that became their first home here, sold to them by Roger Wordell.  They were the first owners outside the original Jennings family, and they moved in the week before the infamous Blizzard of ‘78. Three years later they  married in the Quaker Meeting House on West Main Rd.

When they moved into 92 East Main Rd., corn shocks stood in the field across the street from their house and Judy Wilkie came to welcome them with a plant and her story of moving from Adamsville.  Seeing open fields and woodlands carved up for part time and rental residential development at an accelerating rate has been challenging.  Yet there is a core community that holds of both long-time summer families and year ‘rounders.

When I asked what is the most important thing she would like people to know about her, she answered:  “I cherish my extended family, my long-lasting marriage and our son Gabriel Long his wife Rebecca Atwood and their son Forrest who also live in RI, as well as my dear friends here,  and I recognize the extraordinary privilege of living in Little Compton–a place that nourishes my soul and challenges my intellect.”

Abigail has always been a lefty. When she was pregnant in 1985 she learned about growing resistance to an Air Force plan to build a 150 foot military communications tower in what is now the Simmons Mill Pond Preserve.  She joined the No-GWEN (short for Ground Wave Emergency Network) group that formed to educate the public about the proposal.  Resistance was successful and a close-knit group formed around the effort that continues to manifest itself in the Peace Vigil a number of us participate in each Sunday on the Common.

The local Democratic Town Committee asked her to serve on the School Committee, which she did for twelve years, serving as its Chair for six of them. During her second term she cajoled her dear friend Nan Haffenreffer, that’s me, into joining her.  She told me that my sense of humor, and no-nonsense, quick, smart take on things was an invaluable addition to our bi-partisan, compatible group.  Then she was elected to the Town Council, serving as a minority member for four challenging years.  She had fun circulating a campaign postcard that pictured her pulling at her hair and yelling “I need HELP!!” as she tried desperately to summon votes for other Democrats to join her on the Council. 

Her dive into a commitment to preserve the special character and resources of Little Compton came in 2005 with initiating the creation of a booklet with others called Building with Little Compton in Mind.  With funding from a grant and private donations it got circulated to every household in Little Compton with recommendations and resources forconstructing with sensitivity to the existing built landscape as well as the town’s scenic attributes and wildlife.  That led to her being asked, at the ripe age of 60, to join the Board of Sakonnet Preservation Association (SPA).  Serving this organization has been one of the great joys of her work life. When she was elected President, she once again corralled me to join this board, but then I had succeeded in securing her participation on an advisory committee to the Board of the Little Compton Visiting Nurse Association that continued through its mergers with Fall River and South Coast.  Abigail has stated that working with SPA has been a most meaningful way for her to express her gratitude for living in this beautiful coastal community and to join with others all over the state and the country who are devoted to the same cause of protecting our heritage of natural resources, wildlife and scenic beauty.  She has found the work that satisfied her early desire and that fits with her childhood summer experience of living simply, attentively and responsibly on the land. Abigail is “passionate about land conservation and is devoted to Little Compton and its environs. No one has worked harder for SPA than she to maintain a highly functioning land trust with a commitment to excellence and integrity,” says one of her closest friends.

On a statewide and regional basis Abigail has served on the board of the RI Land Trust Council. She has been effective in cooperating with other conservation initiatives and organizations in LC; she has been a champion of town-wide conservation mapping; helped establish programing and trips for local schoolchildren; served as a community liaison for the Nature Conservancy’s Dundery Brook Trail project; has supported collaborative projects with both Garden Clubs, and worked with the Little Compton Historical Society on two publications–in 2011Sakonnet Point Perspectives and in 2019 Little Compton: A Changing Landscape.

Abigail is a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother. She is also a mentor and someone I admire.  I think of her when I leave the water running too long, hang the laundry, use too many paper towels, drive too fast when coming up to a turn and put my clothes in the dryer!

Thanks Abigail!

Nan Haffenreffer

April 2020

 

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