There’s a funny story within the Douglas Borden family that states: “If you ask us what time it is, we will tell you how to build a watch.” Some might say the Bordens are storytellers, some might say that some of the Bordens are storytellers. Either way, there’s always a story….
Nearly forty years ago, Douglas Hills Borden Jr. and Joan Louise Borden were drawn gently but directly into the Fall River Historical Society, literally. They had parked across the street and felt intuitively that they should walk over and go inside. Upon entering, they observed a group of tourists being guided through the museum spaces by the one and only Florence Cook Brigham, then curator of the Fall River Historical Society. As Florence was speaking about the Borden family, Doug proposed out loud, “How would you like to meet a real Borden?” Florence was elated, and the rest as they say, is history.
Douglas H. Borden Jr. is a ninth generation Borden, descending from Richard Borden who immigrated to New England from England in 1635. He is also the great-great-grandson of Jefferson Borden, founder and first president of the Fall River Bleachery. He was born at Union Hospital, in Fall River, Massachusetts, on September 7, 1931, the second child and first son of the three children of Douglas Hills Borden Sr. and Dorothea Burton (Taudvin) Borden.
While living at 291 Cherry Street in Fall River with his grandparents, Jefferson Borden III (known as Grampie Borden) and Martha Douglas (Hills) Borden, Douglas H. Borden Jr. (Doug) attended Westall School for kindergarten. In early April 1938, the family moved to what had been the family summer home on Sea View Avenue in Touisset (known as The Avenue), a part of Swansea, Massachusetts, and right on the Coles River tributary of Mount Hope Bay. Doug graduated from Joseph Case High School in 1949. He attended Brown University for two years, then graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design.
Growing up on The Avenue was a pleasurable lifestyle of frequent gatherings with family and friends; extended family members lived nearly next door and up and down The Avenue. There was an active sailing and social community – Doug participated in regatta competitions at a very early age, continuing the family legacy of winning them. In Doug’s words:
I had a fun time growing up in Touisset, although I probably could have received better grades if I had not been so water-oriented. Thanks to my father, I did receive a college education which opened doors for me and my family to come, and I am thankful to him for being there when I needed him.
Prompted by Doug’s passion for water-oriented activities, specifically sailing, and thanks to his parent’s generosity, he became the owner of a Beetle cat boat in the summer of 1944. Astoundingly, he and his parents fully restored it in just ten days. That, coupled with the inspiration of Grampie Borden, who was a member of the Massachusetts Naval Militia during the Spanish American War and sported a large “beautiful sailing ship” tattoo on his arm that was very impressive to a young boy, Doug chose a career in the U.S. Navy. While attending Brown University, Doug enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve at the Naval Reserve Training Center in Fall River in February 1951. He graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a Bachelor of Science degree in Machine Design. Douglas Hills Borden Jr. was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve on August 25, 1955. He retired as a Commander, stationed at the Military Sealift Command in Washington, DC, on February 29, 1979.
Joan Louise Goodreau was an intelligent, bright-spirited, beautiful lady, the second daughter of George Louis Goodreau and Delia May (Magliola) Goodreau of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. George Goodreau was a photographer for The Providence Journal newspaper and developed a specific panoramic photograph technology, which he utilized to capture historical events such as collegiate graduating classes and large-scale reunions, etc. Joan was a member of the fourth generation of a large Italian family on her mother’s side, and also grew up in a lifestyle filled with frequent gatherings of family and friends as the center of the Goodreaus’ lives. Music, either played by her father and those gathered or on records as they came into popularity, was greatly enjoyed along with joyful dancing on a regular basis.
Doug’s and Joan’s social worlds aligned perfectly one April night while out for an evening of dancing with friends. One single night of dancing together, including the last dance of the night, became a lifetime dance for the couple. Doug’s Navy career, with his passion for sailing and open water, was about to blend with Joan’s love of music, dance, and glamorous social affairs into a wonderful life.
Just a few short months later, Doug and Joan joined their hearts and their hands in marriage and began a lifetime voyage into unchartered waters. Theirs was an extraordinary voyage of sixty-four years through a twenty-nine-year career in the U.S. Navy, raising four beautiful children, adding fresh new branches to the Borden/Goodreau family tree with each marriage, grandchild, and great-grandchild, and recently a great-great-grandchild. They journeyed through the phase commonly known today as a second career and into retirement. It’s interesting to pause for a moment to try to comprehend the social and cultural life events and experiences of their lives from the mid-1950s to the present.
As a family, Doug and Joan modeled a life where all people were created equal thanks to the life as a U.S. Navy family moving to over a dozen homes and duty stations, meeting new shipmates, new neighbors, and new classmates from all over the United States, sometimes from around the world, at each of the myriad schools the children attended over their years.
Trusted partnership was and remains the essence of Doug and Joan Borden’s life together. While Doug was deployed numerous times throughout his Naval career, Joan filled the role affectionately known as CINC HOUSE (Commander in Chief of the House). Adaptability and resilience were not cliché terms, they were and remain a way of life. Joan’s resourcefulness in handling domestic challenges, from broken appliances to creating children’s clothes and her own striking gowns for formal Navy functions, caring for sick children, and finding new rental homes while Doug was unavailable, and giving back through her volunteer work, became a legacy of strength for all the children to become capable and courageous in facing challenges in their own lives. The calm, tireless efforts of both Doug and Joan in living in multiple homes, seamlessly relocating nearly a dozen times, maybe more, to new duty stations meant new experiences for them as well as each child. This instilled an enormously strong work ethic in their next generation.
Patriotism will remain one of the highest elements of the Borden legacy. Doug’s military service and Joan’s exemplary role as a Navy Officer’s wife speak for themselves. Joan set this example during Doug’s career through her participation not just in the Navy Officers Wives Clubs, but by becoming a ‘Gray Lady’ (The Red Cross Hospital and Recreation Corps) hospital volunteer while stationed in San Diego, California, and volunteering in the children’s school. As a family, the Bordens worshiped in the military chapels, including services held onboard with the crew and families of Doug’s shipmates, and attended many holiday parades and military tattoo events that reinforced the respect, dignity, and honor of being an American citizen.
In his retirement years, Doug continued to model this prized facet of his character as a citizen committed to communicating with his state senators and congressmen over many issues of concern to him. With Joan’s continued full support, he became active in the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), traveling to Richmond, Virginia, numerous times representing the Virginia Council of Chapters (VCOC) to meet with State politicians advocating for veterans’ benefits and other critical issues. He participated in many USO Care Package “Stuffing Parties” during Operation Enduring Freedom, sharing these heartfelt volunteer opportunities with family members. He also became a founding member of the Cold War Museum in Gainesville, Virginia, donating pieces of memorabilia from his Navy career, which spanned the Cold War period, setting another example for the next generation to follow and to ensure that history is not forgotten.
Doug also returned to his passion for and mastery of sailing through his participation and leadership roles in the Mount Vernon Yacht Club in Mount Vernon, Virginia. He successfully taught the next generation how to sail and sail well, and the number of awards received by the family for competitions on the Potomac River from Washington, DC, to Quantico, Virginia, are too numerous to mention. Although Joan was not a competitor in this family pastime, she could have had awards of her own for the number and deliciousness of evening post-race picnic suppers and race-day lunches that she prepared and brought to the celebrants.
Throughout their sixty-four years together, Doug and Joan also shared a true enjoyment of music playing through their homes over the decades, from blue grass to ballroom and everything in between, except maybe hard rock-and-roll, bringing a joy of music to the whole family. Joan was a gifted artist as well, yet only allowed herself to demonstrate it on very few occasions. Doug also had a creative aspect, which manifested itself through painstaking refinishing of the wooden parts of his sailing vessels, creating an occasional piece of furniture, or adding a wall where one had not existed in their home.
In summary, Doug was raised in a Victorian rules-based culture where manners, education, and common sense were highly praised qualities. Joan was ten years younger than her only sibling, raised with very few boundaries except those she created for herself, yet she received love from her parents and so many extended family members. Doug and Joan envisioned a life together and created a family in which legacy was not about wealth or possessions. Their family legacy became a beautiful mosaic of personal character, integrity, honesty, loyalty, expressed gratitude (paying it forward), humility, and grace, accepting people for who they are and allowing others to grow into who they are meant to be.
Perhaps, this is where the seeds were planted that would lead Doug and Joan to one day enter the Fall River Historical Society, meet Florence Brigham, then Michael Martins and Dennis Binette, the successor curators of the Society. Taking their shared experiences of growing up in an ever-changing America, sharing cherished family gatherings and events, staying connected not just to the ones you love but to those you may never meet again, sharing the life experiences and gifts of one generation with the next generations to follow.
The Bordens’ generous donations have enabled the museum to create a timeless gallery for rotating exhibitions and have funded the acquisition of many pieces of art created by artists with ties to Fall River. The Borden family values – our family’s legacy – will continue to touch lives by supporting the dedicated mission and efforts of the Fall River Historical Society.
Valerie Borden McCarry