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Connie Scovill Small, at 103; memoir chronicled lighthouse keepers' lives

The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife has died.

Connie Scovill Small, 103, who helped her husband, Elson, guide seafarers in Maine and New Hampshire and penned a folksy memoir popular with lighthouse lovers, died Jan. 25 in a nursing home in Portsmouth, N.H.

Tim Harrison, president of the American Lighthouse Foundation, said "The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife" is "a great history of lighthouse life in the early to mid-1900s, but it is also one of the greatest lighthouse love stories ever told."

Mrs. Small and her husband maintained lighthouses from the Canadian border to Portsmouth Harbor from 1920 to 1948. Seven days a week, Mr. Small turned on the light at dusk and turned it off at dawn, no matter the weather conditions. If Mr. Small wasn't up to it, Mrs. Small did it.

The couple lived in remote locations, usually without electricity and communication with the mainland. It was lonely, tough, and sometimes dangerous work, but Mrs. Small found it rewarding. "I see the lighthouse as a spiritual symbol, because every time the light flashed it was like something coming from inside of me saying, 'I'm saving lives and property,' " she said in a story published in the Globe in 1998.

Mrs. Small was born to a seafaring family in Lubec, Maine. Her grandfather was a sea captain, her uncle a lighthouse keeper. Her father was in charge of the Quoddy Head Life Station in Maine.

Her husband served in the merchant marine during World War I before entering the lighthouse service.

They spent time on the Lubec Channel Light, off Lubec, and Avery Rock Lighthouse on Machias Bay. They also served at Seguin Island Lighthouse, at the mouth of the Kennebec River; St. Croix River Light at the mouth of the St. Croix River; and finally Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, before leaving the service in 1948.

Dochet Island Light was her favorite. "We had a garden, cows, chickens, everything. It was like paradise to us after being surrounded by just ocean," she said in 1998.

On Seguin Light, Mr. Small came down with a fever. "I knew nobody could get to us," she said in 1998, "and, of course, there was no way to contact anyone, as we had no telephone, nothing, not even electricity. We didn't have electricity and refrigeration until the Portsmouth Harbor Light. "

So Mrs. Small kept the foghorn and light going. "Tons of water was washing over me all the time. I did everything I could," she said.

Mr. Small fell unconscious and she assumed he was dead. She assembled supplies to wash his body and prepare it for burial and spent 20 minutes outside the living quarters summoning up her nerve. When she finally pushed the door open, Mr. Small opened his eyes and said, "I'm hungry."

"That was my miracle," Mrs. Small said in 1998.

After leaving the lighthouse service, Mrs. Small worked in a department store and got an administrative job at Farmington State College in Maine. Mr. Small died in 1960.

At the urging of friends, Mrs. Small wrote "The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife" when she was 85.

"It came at a time of renewed interest in lighthouses, and she got a lot of attention," Harrison said. "I don't think a month went by that a reporter didn't come to her door."

She made more than 500 personal appearances across the region. "She loved talking about lighthouses," said Jeremy D'Entremont, president of the board of directors of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse. "She was a guiding light to a lot of people."

Mrs. Small became a lighthouse keeper's wife despite the fact that she was frightened of water, boats, and heights. She had to surmount all three fears on the couple's first assignment, at Lubec Channel Light, which was surrounded by water and reachable only by an iron ladder 30 feet high.

Mrs. Small had to maneuver her way onto the ladder from a rocking boat. She told her husband she couldn't do it, but he prevailed upon her. He said he would be right behind her and warned not to look down. "Don't look down" became Mrs. Small's motto.

"She said it was a rough life, but she never regretted it," Harrison said.

She leaves several nieces and nephews.

A funeral service was held in Eliot, Maine.

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