Eleanor Beatrice King Bixby
Eleanor Beatrice and her identical twin sister Elizabeth Perry were born to Maude and Herman King in 1936. “My father always said his life began at age 40 when we were born,” Eleanor said.
The King family grew up on a small farm on Crandall Road in Tiverton. Eleanor and Liz attended Ranger School in Tiverton and then went on to Henry Lord Junior High School in Fall River and later Durfee High School also in Fall River, where they graduated in 1954 at the top of their class of 399 students. Both were in the Top Ten of graduating seniors (Eleanor was number 5 and Elizabeth number 7 in class rank).
The girls led a quiet life filled with family and friends. “We didn’t really travel very much. It was a big deal to go to Fall River. Now-a-days you could make two or three trips into the city in a day, but back then you stuck pretty much close to home,” Eleanor said. “And I always had Liz. She was my best friend. We never felt like we needed to have other friends come over,” she added.
Besides the twins and their parents, the girls’ paternal grandmother Nellie (Waite) King lived with them. “My mother Maude took care of all the cooking, and while my grandmother Nellie could also cook, she much preferred to be outside and take care of the animals. She would milk the cow, gather the eggs from our chickens and always had a soft spot in her heart for cats and dogs.” Herman worked for the Rhode Island Highway Department and for many years served as a Tiverton town assessor. He also raised vegetables, chopped wood, and went to the shore to dig up quahogs and clams. “In those days, you all did a variety of jobs just to put food on the table and money in your pocket. Most families had milk cows, chickens and large gardens that supplied a great deal of their own food,” Eleanor said.
One thing the twins always attended was every type of function at the Old Stone Church in Tiverton near Adamsville. “Liz and I used to get a ride to church with our neighbor Leah Waite,” she said. Both girls were not only members of the church youth group and choir, but they waited on tables at church suppers.
“In those days the church suppers were held at the Frank Snell Building across the road from the church since we didn’t have a Fellowship Hall. The kitchen was downstairs and the people were seated upstairs,” Eleanor explained. “You spent plenty of time running up and down those narrow stairs.”
Both Eleanor and Elizabeth decided to pursue the business/secretarial track in high school. Durfee High School helped place students in their jobs and the twins quickly landed positions in downtown Fall River – Eleanor as a secretary at Employers Insurance Company and Elizabeth as a secretary at the Albert Pierce Accounting Firm. “We’d often meet for lunch and just enjoy looking in the shop windows,” Eleanor said. Even though neither of the twins had a car, getting to work wasn’t a problem. Each day they waited for Grace Simmons of Adamsville to pick them up on her way to work at the Fall River Electric Light Company. “I was never quite sure what Grace’s job title was, but she was very good with numbers. And one thing she stressed upon us is we had to be on time,” Eleanor said. “We had to be ready to go when her car pulled up in the mornings and likewise we had to be on time in the afternoon when we headed home.”
One of the greatest gifts Eleanor and Liz gave to their parents was a nearly-new car. “We always had older second-hand cars. We never went very far, so those vehicles worked out ok. But when Liz and I began working, we decided to splurge and get my parents a newer car,” Eleanor said. They pooled their money and bought them a 1956 brown and tan Chevrolet Bel-Air convertible. “My father loved to have us all pile into the car and we would head to Gray’s for an ice cream cone,” she said.
Eleanor had a series of secretarial jobs, but it was her job in the administration department of the Naval War College in Newport that she enjoyed the most. She worked there for six years.
The King and Bixby families always knew each other, but it wasn’t until Eleanor was dating a classmate of Richard Bixby that Richard really took notice. Richard, son of Barbara (Mead) and Raymond Wordell Bixby, lived on Long Highway.
“We never had a telephone at home and I used to stay with an elderly friend of the family – Ethel Anderson. She had a phone. So Richard got her phone number, called me at her house and asked me out on a date,” Eleanor explained.
On their first date on November 11, 1956 they went to a movie at the State Theater in New Bedford and afterwards went for a late night snack at the Ledge Diner in Dartmouth.
At the same time, Liz met her husband-to-be Raymond Woodruff from Fall River through a family cookout. Ray had relatives who lived on Crandall Road near the King’s home. Ray was the son of Agnes (Anderson) and Percy Woodruff.
Liz and Ray married at the King Family home on October 10, 1958 when Liz was 21 and Ray was 22. The reception was at The Chanticleer Restaurant (now known as the Moulin Rouge Restaurant) in Tiverton.
Eleanor and Richard had planned to get married at Old Stone Church on October 10, 1959, exactly one year after Liz and Ray were wed. However, Eleanor’s father Herman became sick and died soon afterwards. So Eleanor took her wedding gown back to the store, picked out a less formal dress and she and Richard were married at her family home on November 20, 1959. Dr. Wilbur Nelson performed the ceremony and their reception was also held at the Chanticleer Restaurant. Eleanor and Richard were both 22.
When they married, Eleanor and Richard settled in Little Compton, renting a small apartment on East Main Road.
Eleanor shared a funny story about their time in that small apartment. “Richard and I had invited the Rev. William Main and his wife Christine over for dinner. We had a small drop-leaf kitchen table that we were using as a dining room table. Everyone was seated and I had prepared a nice roast beef dinner. The only problem was when I went to put the food down on the table, one of the table leaves collapsed and all the food fell into Rev. Main’s lap. He had a good sense of humor about it, but I was very embarrassed,” Eleanor said.
They didn’t stay long in that East Main Road apartment. With much help from family and friends, they built a home on Colebrook Road. Around the same time, Liz and Ray purchased a home in Adamsville.
In 1962, children arrived for both Eleanor and Richard (daughter Heather) and for Liz and Ray (son Bradford). And three years later in 1965, children arrived again for Eleanor and Richard (son Peter) and for Liz and Ray (daughter Bethany).
The twins moved their mother Maude and grandmother Nellie into a mobile home on Liz and Ray’s property on Stone Church Road. “My mother and grandmother thought this was great. They were close by to both of us and they had a brand new home to live in,” Eleanor said.
Those were good years. Between raising children and helping elderly relatives and neighbors, family was always the priority. There was even a pathway that cut from the back of the Bixby home, through the woods, across a field, and ended in the back of the Woodruff family’s yard. The kids (Heather, Pete, Brad and Beth) would use it to trek back and forth. The kids all attended Wilbur School and summers were spent at Howland’s Beach at Westport Harbor on weekdays. “Liz and I would pack up the kids and our lunch and spend the entire day down there.” On weekends, the Bixbys would go sailing out of Sakonnet Point and the Woodruffs would go camping in New Hampshire.
On September 29, 1973, at the age of 37, Elizabeth passed away at Charlton Hospital while recovering from gall bladder surgery. “That was a very difficult time for me,” Eleanor said. “Liz had been by my side my entire life and then she was gone.” Eleanor said the thing that kept her going was focusing on making sure the kids were ok. Brad was age 10 and Beth was 7 years old. “I know if it had been me that passed away first, Liz would have done the same for me. The four kids always got along and since Liz and I were so close, we always were in each other’s homes. The kids are really more like brothers and sisters than cousins.” So Eleanor took on the role of helping raise her nephew and niece. And she continued to care for her mother Maude, who was afflicted with severe arthritis. She also helped out at Old Stone Church in a variety of ways as a Sunday school teacher, visitation committee member, bazaar cook, organ fund raising committee member and pulpit committee member and typist of the Sunday church bulletin.
In 1999, with a dream of living on the water, Eleanor and Richard built a house on the Sakonnet River in Tiverton. “I don’t know if I could have sold that house we built in Little Compton to just anyone, but because we sold it to Heather, it stays in the family and we can visit anytime,” Eleanor said.
Family means everything to Eleanor. She and Elizabeth were raised by parents and a grandmother who taught them “it’s better to give than to receive.” Both women lived their lives by that adage. If you met Eleanor today or even 15, 30 or 50 years ago, you would know her as the cheerful, bubbly lady, who will always drop whatever she’s doing to help someone out. She is constantly giving to others. Liz was the same way. They learned that gift from their family. “It doesn’t matter what you have, but if you live in a loving home with a caring family, you have everything,” Eleanor said.
Today, Eleanor will be the first person to play down the role her positivity has played in other’s lives. But once you’ve met her, you’re not likely to forget how she makes you feel – warm, welcomed and loved. It’s a gift that she shares so freely with others. Through her words, through her delicious cooking, through her helpfulness, she is always putting others first.
It’s been 47 years since Liz passed away. In that time, the kids have married and the grandchildren are now grown. But for Eleanor the giving continues. “I can’t do as much as I once did, but I get up every morning and do my best.”
Written by Heather Bixby Fitzgerald, Daughter of Eleanor King Bixby and niece of Elizabeth King Woodruff