For nearly a century of public life, Lucy R. Tootell was a force of energy promoting heritage education, celebrating the “South County mystique,” and preserving the architecture and memory of the past.
Born in Jacksonville, Illinois on November 27, 1911, Lucy moved to South Kingstown, Rhode Island, with her family in 1913 before she was two years old.
As the wife of 1924 Olympic Gold medalist and Rhode Island Hall of Fame inductee, Fred Tootell (teacher, coach, and athletic director of URI), Lucy was a champion in her field, whether it be the school classroom, or telling tales out of school in the nearly half dozen historical societies she founded in South Kingstown, Charlestown, and Richmond. She divided her time between Kingston and the family interests in Richmond, even serving as the vice president of the Wood River Branch Railroad. She was also an accomplished golfer and tennis player and was known locally for her bridge-playing skills.
Following in the family tradition of public service (her father, Roy Willard Rawlings, was the last Republican Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, and her brother, Rob Roy Rawlings, was a long-time state senator), Lucy served as a state representative from District 52 in the years from 1973 until 1977.
Lucy graduated from Westerly High School with honors in 1929 and became a 1933 graduate of the Rhode Island College of Education. Her educational training was expanded at Boston University Law School, the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, and at Northwestern University’s children’s theater.
Lucy taught at the Roger Williams Junior High School in South Providence and at the Richmond Elementary School. Her educational background made her a champion for securing the Bell School House in Richmond for the Richmond Historical Society. During the Rhode Island bicentennial of independence observance, she edited and wrote portions of the commemorative volume, Driftways to the Past, a history of the town of Richmond, published by the Society.
Lucy brought her sense of the dramatic, her administrative skills, and her sheer enthusiasm to public history programs at the Little Rest Museum in Kingston and as first president of the Pettaquamscutt Historical Society. She helped to organize the Charlestown Historical Society and chaired Rhode Island Heritage Month as a member of the board of the League of Rhode Island Historical Societies.
In 1997, in recognition of her lifetime achievements in the field of local history and the cause of historic preservation, the University of Rhode Island conferred upon her the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. Lucy died on January 5, 2010 at the age of ninety-eight.
– Albert T. Klyberg, L.H.D.