Obituary of Frances Swift Olney

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Frances Swift Olney

October 6, 1913 - August 9, 2003

Frances Swift Olney, 32 Esker Road, Hampton, New Hampshire died August 9, 2003 of complications from congestive heart failure. A resident of Hampton for more than thirty years, she lived independently into her ninetieth year following the death of her husband in 1971.

Thoughtful, opinionated and eccentric, she demonstrated her belief in the importance of education in a democratic society by being a career elementary school teacher, a voracious reader, and a supporter of political and liberal causes. Her memories of the struggles and successes of her many first graders, and news of their subsequent lives were the sources of profound pleasure for her.

Martha Frances Swift was born October 6, 1913 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Mrs. Olney's father was high school principal, attorney and child labor law lobbyist Wiley Hampton Swift, and her mother was outspoken education and women's rights advocate Bulus Bagby Swift. Political and educational discussions of the early twentieth century were part of her everyday family life. She attended the Friends Quaker School in Manhattan as a young teenager, graduated from Greensboro (NC) High School, and received a B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina.

In the late thirties she worked for Time/Life in New York City, where she met her future husband Peter, a native of Hampton, NH. After a series of moves during the war years, while her husband worked in the aircraft industry and fought with the Marines in the Pacific, the family settled in Lincoln, RI, where her three children spent much of their childhoods. The move to Hampton was initially triggered by the needs of Mrs. Olney's aging mother-in-law, who resided on her family's homestead off Winnacunnet Rd. However, she quickly became a fixture in town herself through her teaching.

Although she had not lived in the south for more than sixty five years, Mrs. Olney nurtured her southern heritage and roots, returning regularly to her ancestral home at Montezuma Gap in the Smoky Mountains. Visits with her siblings, Wiley, David, "Buster" (Thomas) and "Bootsie" (Bulus), and reunions with the Bagby clan have provided colorful memories for Mrs. Olney's children and grandchildren. Her southern accent endured more than a half century of residency in the north and was with her at death.

Mrs. Olney is survived by her three children: Deborah Atwell of Rockland, Maine, a children's book author and illustrator; David, a musician and songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee; and Peter, an architect and resident of Hampton. She is also survived by eight grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at Exeter (NH) Cemetery, Saturday, September 13 at 10:00 a.m. to remember her full and interesting life. In lieu of flowers a donation to the Lane Library children's book room is suggested.

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