Dori Madsen Dixon: A Lowcountry Classic

A Question of Heritage

    There was an air of stateliness in the room. When asked how she thought our ancestors would feel if placed into today's world, Mrs. John Walton Dixon quickly declared, "Horrified! As good solid Christians, they would find the breakdown in manners, dress mode and offensive language quite unsettling."
    As organizer of Hilton Head Island's Captain William Hilton chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), founding member of the Hilton Head Island Genealogical Society and life member of the Magna Charta Dames, Doris "Dori" Madsen Dixon speaks with authority. Tracing her lineage back to the Pilgrims, she possesses a great deal of wisdom concerning the history and customs of an amazing era of courage and endurance.
    The current governor of the SC branch of the National Society Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims, Dori is a New York City-born gal, raised in a neighboring conservative New Jersey community. She adores the elegance in old movies and remembers her frequent visits into Manhattan, "always dressed in my coat, hat, pumps and gloves!" she said. "Today there are no elegant images to aspire to, as there were then. Remember how we used to say 'I want to be like this person or that one?'"
    After graduating from The Ballard Junior College, Dori met and married Harvard graduate, John Walton Dixon in New York's St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in September, 1948. Residing with her husband in Dedham, Massachusetts ignited Dori's passion for history. "The Boston area is so historically rich, and spending most of my life in the midst of it sparked an even deeper interest," she said. "As a Doric Dame and volunteer guide at the Massachusetts State House, part of the Freedom Trail, I loved giving the tours to children."
    Her grandmother was a DAR member, so Dori was delighted to become a member of the Dedham chapter in 1982. Originally founded in Washington, DC in 1890, the DAR has admitted over 800,000 members. Their museum houses more than 30,000 historic relics, collected from 1700 to the 1850s.
    "The DAR was formed by women who were not allowed to join the Sons of the American Revolution," chuckled Dori. "One of them was the great, great aunt of our own Leslie Richardson. Uncovering these connections in our ancestry is fascinating! As a member of the New England Historical Genealogical Society, I discovered eight to ten immigrant ancestors of mine dating back to the 1600s and found a few on Hilton Head Island sharing the same ancestry!" Her extensive research also uncovered documentation in her husband's family papers of ancestors who sailed to the New World on the Mayflower.
    Blizzards are great incentives to move south. Dori and John found escape on Hilton Head Island - the perfect spot for a second home and John's impending retirement. Moving permanently to the island in April, 1983, was the catalyst for Dori. On a chance meeting with another DAR member in Washington, DC, Dori learned Hilton Head needed a chapter. A late-evening drive home from a Beaufort DAR meeting convinced her. As an organizing regent, she placed a notice in the Island Packet in January, inviting all DAR members to join her for tea. "The response was 20 DAR gals looking for a membership home," said Dori. "As a relatively new member, I had little experience organizing a chapter, but I read our manual cover-to-cover. It was quite an undertaking working on new applications and obtaining the necessary data to submit to DAR Headquarters in Washington. All were accepted in October, and we signed our charter with 49 organizing members and became an official chapter in December," Dori proudly recalled.
    As an organizing regent, Dori graciously gives credit to Kaye Burris and Virginia McDonald for their encouragement and support. For two terms, Dori served as chapter regent of the William Hilton chapter noting, "From the beginning we were able to offer programs complying with DAR agenda, covering history, conservation and national defense. We more than filled our obligations to our Tamassee DAR School in South Carolina."
    Among the many challenges Dori faced was convincing area schools to participate in the history essay contest and the Good Citizens Award Day. After several years of encouraging the schools, Dori was successful in obtaining "yes" answers from many. "Today I am greatly rewarded when I see so many young people participating," she said. As if not busy enough, Dori was a founding life member and past board member of The Heritage Library Foundation, and has helped many trace their ancestry.
    With her amazing DAR insignia on her shoulder, she said, "Of my 26 years in the DAR, 25 have been on Hilton Head! We are proud to be celebrating our 25th anniversary with a beautiful Black and White Ball, to be held at The Country Club of Hilton Head, December 10!" Although the road to enlightenment may not have been paved and clearly labeled, Dori persisted.
    Adding to her many life accomplishments, Dori boasts one very precious and rare one... "John and I celebrated 60 years of marriage, September 18, with a visit to St. Augustine to be with some of our original wedding party. A long-time volunteer, Dori is an excellent example to all. Always on a nostalgic pilgrimage, she emphasizes the importance of ancestral values. "It's such an exciting hobby," she said, "leading us to believe we desperately need to recapture our sense of dignity."