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February 14, 2013

Heard around town: A loss of Peabody's memory

PEABODY — Barbara Doucette was an expert on all things Peabody, the good, the bad and the smelly. Doucette, 84, died on Feb. 6, and when she went, she took a lot of Peabody history with her — the sorts of things you won’t find in books or on video.

A member of the Peabody Historical Society, she was the go-to person when it came to understanding mid-20th-century Peabody, an era fading inexorably from view.

“She was our walking history book,” says Glenice Boyd of the Historical Society. “She answered a lot of questions. ... A great loss.”

A good example was her laughing take on the leather industry in 2006: “When I was growing up, in the summer, when you rode through Peabody Square, you rolled up the windows because of the smell coming from the leather shops. And you didn’t ride the bus in the afternoon when all the leather workers went home, because the smell would be on their clothes.”

In the midst of a debate over the value of the leather industry to modern Peabody, then-City Councilor (now mayor) Ted Bettencourt had pointed out its importance.

“No wonder,” Doucette commented. “The Bettencourts wouldn’t be here without the leather industry.”

All the city’s ethnic groups, she explained, came to work in the leather factories. “But the world has changed, and we have to go with it.”

Doucette’s colleagues at the society will now find it more difficult “going with it” without her.

“A personal loss for me,” Ann Birkner says. “If a research question came up, she was the one to call. She knew what was in the files.

Doucette was lecturing to the Garden Club as recently as January, Birkner says. She had a keen sense of humor and joy for life.

“She devoted her life to spreading the word about Peabody history,” adds Bill Power, a Historical Society veteran. “She was a huge asset to local historians. ... It’s an institutional loss and a personal loss.”

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