Dorothy Otto Kennedy

Travel the world? Yes!   Supermarket? No Way!

Dorothy Otto Kennedy at 100 years old.

She saw the first automobiles come to Puget Sound, and she witnessed the birth of the Internet. She dined with a sheik in a Cairo nightclub, met aborigines in Australia, saw magnificent waterfalls in South America and enjoyed symphonies in Vienna and Berlin. She talked for hours in Nepal with the Sherpa guide who climbed Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. In Tehran she saw the Shah of Iran’s crown jewels. She traveled to every country on earth but Antarctica.  But she never set foot in a grocery store.

Not once. In all her 102 years, Dorothy Otto Kennedy, one of the state’s first female pharmacists, a woman whose family endowed a scholarship and distinguished professorship in her name at Washington State University, never set foot in a supermarket.

Everything she needed – bread, milk, vegetables, ice to keep things cold – was delivered. “Dorothy explained forthrightly, “I never liked to cook so why bother going to the store for fancy foods?”
Dorothy Otto Kennedy at 100 years old.
An articulate, expressive woman with a sweet disposition and ready smile, Dorothy was born July 15, 1895 in Tacoma and moved to Everett when she was five. Her decision to travel to Europe after graduation from Everett High School in 1912 was summarily vetoed by her mother. Dorothy wanted to attend Stanford, but there wasn’t enough money, so she set off for WSU with hopes of becoming a physician. University officials told her flatly that because she was female, there was no way she would be allowed to be a doctor.

“They shuffled me off to pharmacy school,” she said. “There were four women and 35 men, and it was rough right from the start.”

Thanks to hard work, good professors and a head for numbers and equations, Dorothy graduated in 1916 and immediately went to work at a pharmacy in Reardon, and then one in Seattle, always working 15-hour days. After finding out her friend made considerably more managing a major department store, Dorothy began to wonder if a career in pharmacy was worth it.

And so, in 1920, Dorothy went to Harvard to study wholesale merchandising. Graduate work allowed her to travel to stores throughout the east coast. When she got her degree, she was offered a management job at Macy’s. “It was cold, cold, cold, and they wanted me to say four years!” she recalled indignantly. “I said no and went to Baltimore to become personnel manager of a large department store.”

A friend in that city insisted on introducing Dorothy to her cousin, a young lawyer named David Duff Kennedy. Dorothy was not impressed. “I was such an awful tomboy, too busy doing my own thing to pat attention to men,” she said. “I didn’t like anything he said, anything he did, anything about him.” With an impish grin, she added, “But he did have a car.”

Love would find a way and David and Dorothy married in 1922. Five years later they moved to Everett with son Robert in tow. Before long, daughter Mary was born. “Everett was busy, busy, busy,” Dorothy said. “We saw this little old house on Grand Avenue and bought it, thinking we would only be there a couple of years.”

Losing all their money in the 1929 stock market crash ended their plans for a larger home so the Kennedys remained in the little house as Duff, and then Bruce came along. By 1939 it was clear Dorothy would have to return to work. She passed the state exam for license reinstatement and went back to putting in 15-hour days in local drug stores.

World War II brought a shortage of pharmacists and Everett General Hospital asked Dorothy to operate its pharmacy. That meant she had only to run (she never walked) two blocks to work. And, it was only an 8-hour day! She also taught pharmacology at the hospital’s nursing school. She worked alone at General for 22 years until her retirement in 1962, when she was replaced by three people. Her hard work paid off. She put all of her children through Stanford University.
Finally free to travel, Dorothy tried cruises and tours, but eventually flew off to foreign climes on her own schedule, going wherever curiosity took her. “All my men were in the services,” she said proudly, “so I went to visit them.”

Bob was stationed in Taiwan with the Air Force, Duff was in Germany with the Army, and Bruce was sailing up and down the coast of Africa as a Navy doctor. Dorothy went to all those places and beyond, returning to some again and again.

“You have no concept of the size of Africa,” she said. “It’s so beautiful.” She held a smooth stone sculpture in her hands and reminisced about India and the Orient. She spoke of an elephant picking her up by its trunk and of staying with a friend in Greece for several months. She was 86 when she last visited China.

For the last eight years of her life, Dorothy lived independently in an apartment at Washington Oakes, a retirement home that was once Washington Elementary School, the very school all of her children had attended. She kept in touch with people she had met in her travels, went to the opera and the symphony, gardened, played bridge, served as a deacon at First Presbyterian Church in Everett, mentored a group of nurses and had great fun with her family.

When she became nearly blind, she got a computer that greatly magnified print and kept on reading. “I think it’s too bad some older people just sit and don’t have any interests,” she said. “They can keep up on things, on history, on politics. People need to do something, not just sit.”

And with that, Dorothy excused herself to prepare to go out to lunch. She loved going out – as long as it was not to the grocery store!

Sources: Personal interview with Dorothy Otto Kennedy, June 1995

© 1995 Theresa A. (Teri) Baker, All Rights Reserved;  WLP Story # 45