Dorothy Louise Johnson Oliver, 97, of Middlebury


MIDDLEBURY — Dorothy Louise Johnson Oliver, 97, died peacefully Sunday, May 21, 2023, surrounded by family at her home in Middlebury, after a long struggle with dementia. She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jan. 21, 1926, to Sillsbe and Haidee Viola (Price) Johnson, the youngest of four children.

A child of the Great Depression, Dorothy was a proud graduate of Woodward High School, one of the first public schools in the nation, where she edited the newspaper, starred in school plays, and was crowned Prom Queen. Considering herself a city girl all her life, she enjoyed the free cultural education afforded by such civic institutions as the public library, art museums, and the opera. She entertained her five daughters with true tales of riding to Coney Island on roller skates, hanging onto the rear bumper of a bus, and sneaking into the “talkies” with friends.

In 1945, she married her high school sweetheart, Al Haefner, who received his B.A. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cincinnati. When Al enlisted in the Army Air Force to serve in World War II, she moved with him to military bases in Texas and California, before returning to Cincinnati. In 1953, they moved to Baton Rouge, La., lured equally by professional prospects in the burgeoning oil exploration industry, the balmy climate, and the blooming azaleas. They had three daughters together before divorcing in 1960.

In Louisiana, she worked as a studio photographer and assistant to a woman doctor before marrying her second husband, Dr. Dalton Senter Oliver, in 1964, with whom she had two more daughters. She helped Dalton build his ophthalmology practice and supported his military career as a Major General in the Air Force Reserve while also raising their children. With fond memories of their honeymoon in Vermont, they rediscovered the state’s natural beauty and built their rural home in Middlebury in 1978.

Dorothy was a beloved wife and devoted mother to five children, stepmother to three, grandmother to 18, great-grandmother to 29, and great-great-grandmother to one.

She was a self-taught interior designer who honed her craft studying and collecting art and antiques such as Cincinnati-based Rookwood pottery. She had a rare talent for transforming even simple spaces into beautiful, harmonious, and welcoming homes, filled with natural light, art, and books. An avid reader, she instilled her lifelong love of literature, art, design, and cooking in all her children. She firmly believed that anyone armed with a public school education and library card could be and do whatever they wanted, as she did in building her own cultural education.

She was predeceased by Dalton, her husband of 44 years, older siblings Charles, Richard, and Anna Maria, and stepdaughter Nancy (Oliver) Hutchinson of Coronado, Calif.

She is survived by her three daughters by first husband Al Haefner: Sandra Bigner of Mebane, N.C.; Pam (Dale) Davis of Middlebury; and Ann (Randy) Solar of Baton Rouge, La.; and two daughters by second husband Dalton Oliver, Amy (Dan) Beaupre of Middlebury; and Jill (Mike) Rose of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. She is also survived by two stepchildren, Victor (Lynn) of Baton Rouge, La.; and Lucy Scheffy of Baton Rouge, La.

She was a long-term member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Middlebury, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge, La.

The family would like to gratefully acknowledge the loving care provided by Carie at Home Health, as well as Ron and Margie, over the past ten years.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 4, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Middlebury. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, P.O. Box 223, Middlebury, Vt., 05753. ◊


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