William J. Dorgan, Sr. and William J. Dorgan III.
This photo was taken on 17 August 1969 at the General Hospital of Rhode Island by my cousin, Thomas A. Dorgan, Jr. My grandfather was 72 and I was 20 … almost 21. He died 14 years later on 22 FEB 1983. It is the only photo I have of him.
My brother, Eddie, found this photo hidden in a drawer of a desk belonging to our Dad. At the time I met him I was heading for Novitiate (a spiritual year of study, prayer and reflection) with the Carmelites.
My grandfather married twice. No one ever heard of his first wife.
(1) He married his first wife, Jessie Greig, a waitress, on June 9, 1917. They had a son who was born on October 9, 1917 and died on October 15, 1917. They separated in the summer of 1918 and were formally divorced on January 4, 1923.
(2) He married his second wife, Helen Louise McIntosh, on 25 JUL 1923. They had three children, one of which was my father, William J. Dorgan, Jr.
I had never before met my grandfather. His name or whereabouts were never mentioned. Even as a child I always wondered what happened to him. After all, every boy had two grandfathers, except me! I was to learn later that he and my grandmother were separated in 1927 and formally divorced on 22 SEP 1937. Sadly, no one ever mentioned his name to his grandchildren. And it wasn’t until 1969 that I found out about him by chance:
One summer day in 1969, Ann O’Donnell-Dorgan came into the Shepherd Company in downtown Providence where I worked as a clerk in the men’s clothing department. I noticed her charge card said DORGAN. I told her I was a DORGAN and she said her husband was my Dad’s first cousin. First surprise: I never knew my Dad had cousins!
We got into a conversation and I asked her if she knew my grandfather. She said, “Yes, I know him. He is my husband’s uncle”. I was flabbergasted. Second surprise: I did not know if he was dead or alive and here was confirmation that he was indeed alive!
I asked her if she could put me in contact with him and she said she would have her son, Tommy Dorgan contact me. Within a few days, my newly discovered cousin, Tommy Austin Dorgan, Jr., contacted me and took me to meet my grandfather at the Rhode Island Medical Center (colloquially known at that time as “Howard”).
My grandfather was in the general hospital of the Rhode Island Medical Center because he was indigent. He was a surgical patient, not a psychiatric patient. He had fallen and fractured his hip. He was being discharged in a few days.
Despite what I heard about him, I immediately liked him, and I knew he liked me too. I could not get over how he looked like my own father, his son, and how all three of us resembled one another. Take another look at the photo! It was uncanny, and a memory burnt into my brain forever.
At this meeting I spontaneously invited him to come to my father’s home for a “cook-out” and he readily accepted. I picked him up at his home at 21 Beach Avenue, Warwick and drove him to my father’s house at 85 Herschel Street in Providence. He was dandyishly dressed in a white starched shirt, pressed slacks and polished black shoes with his white hair combed impeccably.
He and my Dad had been estranged since the late 1920s – early 1930s. In fact, I believe that my Dad only saw him once at the Providence Police Station in the 1950s. To this day, I am not too sure how my Dad really felt about this meeting that I had arranged without consulting him first or seeking his permission. We never discussed it. But, for me, it was a wonderful encounter indelibly ingrained in my memory … it was simply the right thing to do.
I never saw my grandfather again but I still think of him.
When he died, my own father had a funeral Mass celebrated and buried him properly. My father was always an honorable man. Later on, my Dad told me that when he went to claim the body as next of kin, he noticed that on his bed stand was the Bible and a photo of me and him that I had taken at the Rhode Island Medical Center. This is the photo my brother, Eddie found in the discarded desk when our Dad died.