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Devoted to sailing and public service, Hope Atkinson (1927-2015) made a difference across the South Coast region. She served as town meeting member and library trustee in Dartmouth, president of the Association for the Relief of Aged Women in New Bedford, and high school librarian in Wareham. Throughout her life she was a leader in multiple non-profit programs focusing on conservation, libraries, historic preservation, and elder affairs.

Devoted to sailing and public service, Hope Atkinson (1927-2015) made a difference across many South Coast communities. Hope learned to sail and to lead through the Girl Scout Mariner program in South Dartmouth’s Padanaram. She later served as town meeting member and library trustee in Dartmouth, president of the Association for the Relief of Aged Women (ARAW) in New Bedford, and high school librarian in Wareham.

Hope was born in New Bedford on May 27, 1927 to Hazel P. Tripp and Walter W. Atkinson. She attended New Bedford public schools and summered in South Dartmouth’s Bay View as a child. Hope became a skilled sailor at Padanaram’s New Bedford Yacht Club through the Girl Scout Mariner program led by Louise E. Strongman. Racing weekly at New Bedford Yacht Club, Hope “lived in a Beetle Cat” and won many races. Once she aged out of the Mariners, Hope helped Louise lead the group for many years, teaching other young women how to sail, craft, and perform community service. As a Mariner, Hope made several coastal voyages with world-renowned sailor Irving Johnson aboard his brigantine Yankee. Later, she sailed with the Johnsons on Yankee cruises in Europe. For nearly 20 years, from the late 1970s through the 1990s, Hope and her sister Ruth S. Atkinson chartered a small cruiser on their own and explored French rivers and canals. With Hope as captain and Ruth as first mate/cook, friends joined them as working guests. Hope and Ruth also shared their travels with local libraries and schools through slide presentations and Ruth’s watercolor paintings. A lover of books and reading, Hope studied library science at both Simmons College and the University of Rhode Island, where she received a Master’s in Library Science (MLS). For 25 years, Hope was a high school librarian at Wareham High School, retiring in 1988.

In the early 1970s, the two Atkinson sisters moved to the Russells Mills area of Dartmouth. Hope was elected town meeting member and library trustee, offices she held for 25 years. She was a charter member of Paskamansett Bird Club, serving several terms as president, and was a charter member of Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, including two years on their board. Hope became a bird bander for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She was an active member of both the Lloyd Center for Environmental Studies and Allen’s Neck Community Club. Hope also served as president of the Massachusetts Library Trustees Association and Friends of Dartmouth Libraries. She especially supported town initiatives related to conservation, libraries, and historic preservation.

Hope’s impact extended beyond Dartmouth. She was a charter member of the Westport Historical Society as well as the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences in Plymouth. She also served on the Advisory Board of the Governor’s Council on Elder Affairs. To foster creativity, Hope and Ruth generously supported the Co-Creative Center (a mixed use development featuring an art gallery, education and meeting spaces) in downtown New Bedford and are named among the Center’s Pioneers for Innovation.

In 1991, Hope joined the board of the Association for the Relief of Aged Women (ARAW) in New Bedford. In 1994, she was elected president of ARAW and held that office for 10 years, when it was an all-volunteer organization. After guiding ARAW through a comprehensive strategic planning process, Hope spearheaded the effort to hire a paid administrator for the Association; a paid executive director was hired by ARAW in 2007. Hope left the board in 2012, always remaining steadfast in her commitment to ARAW’s founding principle, “not alms alone, but a friend.”

Hope was a lifelong member of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, which governs the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The generous bequest of Hope and Ruth Atkinson to the New Bedford Whaling Museum helps to grow the Museum’s endowment, supports the Panorama project, and maintains the Museum’s German Christmas village, with figurines collected by their father. The Museum welcomed the sisters into the Bourne Society and honored their devotion to sailing and to public service by naming the Sailors’ (lecture) Series in their memory.

Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow, and Rosemary Saber

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