Barrington twins remembered as best friends
Jean Haley and Martha Williams were longtime Barrington fixtures — 'This town's going to miss them'
"Auntie Jean" and "Auntie Martha" always enjoyed spending time together.
When they were teenagers, the Young sisters would relish the warm summer days spent on their family's boat, Sea Horse, cruising Narragansett Bay. Later on, as Jean Young Haley and her twin sister Martha Young Williams raised their own families, the two would enjoy time together as their children played in their yards that edged Barrington River.
And more recently, the two women would regularly meet their younger sister Mary for dinners or lunches at nearby restaurants.
The three longtime Barrington residents had been enjoying a typical night out on Friday, March 3, unaware that hours later tragedy would come calling. On that bitterly cold night, Martha and Jean suffered falls outside Jean's home on Opechee Drive and were unable to get up or call for help. A neighbor noticed one of the woman on Saturday morning, but the relentless cold had taken its toll.
Martha and Jean were gone.
"I think the fact that they passed away together shows how committed they were through love all of their lives," said Sue Williams, Martha's daughter.
Sue said her mother had recently confided in her about a fear. She said her mother had told her quietly one day that she did not think she could keep on living if she did not have her sister Jean around.
That's just how close they were, said Sue.
John Haley, one of Jean's sons, agreed, and smiled. "She (Jean) used to like to say they were 'womb-mates,'" he recalled.
"Auntie Jean always liked to say that," added Sue.
The two sisters were born on Nov. 3, 1919, in Providence. The fraternal twins spent much of their time together, although in their teenage years they did attend different high schools. Jean, the more outgoing and feverishly positive of the two, went to Hope High School. Her sister Martha, a bit more reserved than her twin sister, went to Hope for one year and then transferred to Lincoln School for girls.
Their father wanted them both at Lincoln, said the children, but Jean would not have it. She needed to be at a co-ed school.
The sisters' differences became complementary — they worked well individually, but together they functioned splendidly. "They were never competitive," said their children, almost in unison.
And they always had other friends, "but they were each other's best friends," said Sue.
When their family moved to Barrington the girls found themselves drawn to the water. They lived along the river and spent many days in the family boat, Sea Horse. They would occasionally tease the young men hanging out at the yacht club, recalled their children, hinting at their flirtatious nature.
Many wonderful memories were made on the Sea Horse — a 39-foot Matthews motor boat. A painted image of the boat is framed inside the Haleys' home and there are photos of the family from the time they spent aboard the beautiful boat. There is even a framed photo of the boat in a hallway — it can be seen in the background of two America's Cup racing yachts as they cut across the water.
"We weren't supposed to get that close," said Dwight Haley, who later joked about the sound the boat made. Chug, chug, chug, whoosh (as its pump kicked in). "It didn't go very fast."
Jean and Martha both married and started their own families, and as fate would have it, the two families eventually settled along the Barrington River.
The Haleys bought a home at the southern end of Opechee Drive while the Williamses bought a house at the end of Craig Drive. The two homes were just a short row, sail or paddle apart on the Barrington River and the children from both families found themselves commuting back and forth along the water.
For two weeks during the summers, the families of all three Young girls — Jean, Martha and Mary — would get together. Their nine children loved the reunions.
The families also traveled to the beach together during the summer months. They would pile into a Ford Country Squire or one of the other cars and head down to Second Beach in Newport or Horseneck in Westport. They would pitch a tent in the sand and spend a fun day in the sun.
They each had their own lives, but they always made time for each other.
The children said Jean was a driving force in the relationships, and her positive outlook on life was infectious, said the children. She simply would not allow others to get mired in negativity.
"She would always say life's too short" to get caught up in the negative, said Dwight.
Auntie Jean greatly admired her sister, added Dwight, "She would say that Auntie Martha is the nicest human being who ever lived."
Eventually the children grew older and moved away and Jean and Martha and Mary reconnected for lunch dates or dinners out. Jean still lived at the home on Opechee and Mary was also in town. Martha lived with her daughter Sue in Rumford.
She was a fixture around town, said Sue of her Auntie Jean.
They knew her at Dunkin Donuts and Newport Creamery. The manager would hold the door open when he saw them get out of the car — the big Cadillac that they would drive to the Lobster Pot and Billy's and East Bay Oyster Bar and Revival. They loved restaurants that had a bar — it wasn't for the drinks, rather for the chance to relax and talk with people, have a few laughs and make a connection. That's just how Jean was, and Martha was always happy to be there with her, said the children.
A restaurant without a bar is "dullsville" she would say, recalled her children.
Their independence was inspiring. At 97, both sisters still drove. In fact, it was only three years ago Jean stopped driving by herself to her son Bill's house outside Nashua, N.H. Bill said his mother was not happy about the change — that she would have much preferred to continue making the drive by herself.
Later in life, the Haleys and Youngs spent winter months in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, that's a tradition Bill still follows.
The lives they touched
Nearly a full week after the tragic incident, Jean's and Martha's families are still overwhelmed with the sheer number of people who have reached out to them to share their condolences. Beyond just close friends — the women touched the lives of nearly everyone they came in contact with. The postman sobbed with Sue a day after he heard about Ms. Williams. Martha's stockbroker called Sue in tears. He had spent days sharing the sad news with others who knew her.
But the family is quick to put a silver lining on the tragedy:
"I think they would love the attention." "This story is being shared across the world."
They even imagine Auntie Jean and Auntie Martha looking down to see Queen Elizabeth taking a break to read the story in a British newspaper. Auntie Jean and Auntie Martha loved the Queen, and Jean would often joke that she wished America had lost the Revolutionary War.
"The story was in the British press," said Bill. "She loved England."
The children paused during the moment of levity.
"You know, this town's going to miss them," said John.