August 10, 1924 – July 1, 2018

Florence Catherine Howard was born on August 10, 1924, in Dedham, Massachusetts to Ada Decoste Howard, age 27, and William Andrew Howard, age 34.

She was the youngest of their 4 children, Edna (1916), William “Sonny” (1918)  and Paul (1919). Her siblings were all born within 3 years of one another, but there was a 5 year gap between Paul and Florence and a 10 year age difference between Florence and her sister Edna, so she was truly the baby of the family.

Paul and Edna in back, William “Sonny” and Florence in front

When Florence was young the family lived in a house at #4 Bryant St, on the corner of Eastern Ave. in Dedham. Today a bank and gas station sit where the house stood.

Florence’s  mother Ada passed away on August 21, 1932, in Braintree, Massachusetts, at the age of 35. Her cause of death is listed as “consumption”, which was a term used at the time for tuberculosis.  She was ill for a period of time and knew she was going to die, but never told the children. Florence saw her cough up blood one day and her mother made her promise not to tell anyone, so she knew it was probably something serious.

Ada Decoste with 3 of her 4 children – William “Sonny” (left), Edna (right) and Florence (center) circa 1929-1930

Ada was buried in Brookdale Cemetery in Dedham, not far from where the family lived. Florence was only 7 at the time.  Edna had an argument with their father soon after and left to go live with Ada’s sister Auntie Florence and her mother’s parents, William and Mary (Levangie) DeCoste.

Florence’s maternal grandparents, William and Mary (Levangie) DeCoste

Paul Howard was the next to leave, followed by Florence (both due to illness). Their father could tell Sonny, the only remaining child, missed his siblings and told him it was OK for him to go too. Florence had very little relationship with her father after that point.

Florence’s lifelong love for reading started when she was very young. Her aunt brought her to the library in Dedham and got her a library card when she was just barely old enough to read on her own, probably 5 or 6 years old. She picked out a book, ran home and read it quickly and returned to take out another book, only to be told by the librarian that she needed to wait until the next day to take out more books. The family didn’t have a lot of money to begin with, and this was right at the height of the Great Depression. Access to an unlimited supply of free books at the library opened up a new world, and reading was her main source of entertainment.

She also had a wild streak from a young age. When she was in kindergarten, she skipped school one day to go pick wild blueberries. She had seen them growing on East street near Brookdale Cemetery and knew where to get them. US Route 1 was just being built at that time, but she could still cross High street over to East street, On the way she bumped into a friend’s mother who asked why she wasn’t in school and why she was doing walking around without an adult. “I’m going to pick blueberries!”. So the woman walked with her and helped her fill her hat with blueberries before bringing her home.  She heard the police show up at her house looking for her, so she hid under the bed. Her grandmother was not amused to find her there later.

Florence was a 1942 graduate of Dedham High School and worked at the John Hancock building in Boston for 4 years after graduation. She gave most of her paycheck to her grandmother to help pay the bills, but was allowed to keep a small amount for herself. There was enough left over for her to go to the movies or even catch a Bruins game at the Boston Garden.

Florence Howard graduation 1942

In June 1946, Florence married Wallace Gordon Fraser. Wally grew up near the Norwood and East Walpole line, and served in the Marine Corps in WWII. They had 2 children, Cynthia (b. Feb 1947) and Jimmy (b. Dec 1947), before divorcing in 1950.  

Wally and Florence on their wedding day in 1946.

After the divorce Florence and the children moved back in to her grandmother’s house, but it was a little cramped for them. She bumped into a friend from Dedham named Mary Hall one day, who offered to let them stay with her in her apartment in Norwood. Florence got a job at the 5 and dime to help with expenses, and Mary took care of the kids while she was at work. After a year or so, Mary bought a house and Florence and the kids had the apartment to themselves.

Around the end of 1950, Florence met Russell Webber from Norwood. He knew her from her time spent volunteering at the VA Hospital in West Roxbury. Russ saw her walking home a few times and figured out her schedule, so he could conveniently be there with the car when she got done working. Florence was walking the kids in Norwood one day wearing an expensive pair of sunglasses when Russ pulled up in his car on the other side of the street and whistled at her. Then he said “Take the shades off, I know who you are under there!”.  At that time, Russ  shared the car with his brother Kenny, but he was using it so much he eventually bought it from him. After that he started driving her home regularly.

Florence volunteering at the VA hospital in West Roxbury.

In November of 1950 Russ took her to the Thanksgiving football game between Dedham and Norwood, but told her he wouldn’t be seeing her that night. She knew he was also dating a nurse from Braintree who he was going to see later. When he was with Florence he would tell her stories about the nurse, and they would laugh about them, and he also talked about Florence to the nurse. The night of the football game the nurse had finally had enough and said “All you do is talk about her, maybe you should just go be with her tonight”, and Russ said “That’s a good idea!” and went back to see Florence. He never saw the nurse again.

Florence and Russ prior to their marriage.

At that time, Florence and the kids lived in an apartment on the corner of Cleveland St. at 69 Railroad Avenue in Norwood. This was the same apartment Mary Hall had let her move into the year before. After around 2 years of dating each other, on August 10th, 1952, Florence’s 28th birthday, she and Russ got married and Russ moved into the apartment.

Florence and Russell on their wedding day.

Russ’ sister Doris was the maid of honor, and Russ’ friend Pete Bamba was his best man. After the ceremony, they went to Chinatown in Boston for a nice meal, then hopped on the bus and went to San Diego, California for their honeymoon. Florence’s friend Kitty McDonough watched Cynthia and Jimmy while they were away.  Florence didn’t think Cynthia would mind, but she cried most of the time they were away, while Jimmy spent time with the other kids.

Florence and Russ on their honeymoon in Sand Diego.

Their honeymoon bus trip  across the country to San Diego was Florence’s first trip outside New England, and it began a lifetime of travel for the happy couple.  They especially loved to take long drives, with or without a destination.

Russ was always good to Jimmy and Cynthia. Florence never asked him to adopt them, but he said if they were going to be starting a family anyway, it was going to be one family, with no differences between the kids and no separate names. So both kids took the Webber name.

In March of 1953, Russ’ mother Margaret Colbert Webber died. His father Pa needed help running the house, so in December Russ, Florence, Cynthia and Jimmy moved in to his house further up  the street at 286 Railroad ave.

They bought the house from Russ’ brother Preston (who had financed the house for Pa) for $6000.  Richard was 2 months old when they made the move.   Once Russ and Florence started having more children, the house was getting cramped and the family needed more privacy so Pa moved in with his daughter Eva on Winter street. Todd, Sharon, Jeff and Mark were all born while they lived at 286 Railroad ave. The house still stands at the present location, although an addition was added in 2010.

In the mid 1950’s when her first few kids were still small, Florence worked at a fast food ice cream restaurant called Ellis’ on route 1.  Russ worked as a custodian for the Norwood school department, mostly at the Shattuck school across the street from their house.  The younger kids were regularly left in the care of Jimmy and Cynthia if they were around, or unattended if they weren’t. Working mother’s were still not common in those days but in those days kids would get up in the morning and go out until dinnertime even if their parents were home.

On August 9th, 1965 the family took out a $19,300 mortgage to pay off 286 Railroad Avenue and buy the house at 311 Nahatan st.  The monthly mortgage payment for the 30 year loan was $66, which was a good sum of money in 1966 but by the 1980’s was a bargain.

Because backyards of the houses almost touched, only separated by the yard at 3 School St, most of the family’s belongings were moved straight through these back yards. Built in 1910, it was a brown, wood shingled house, set up as an upstairs/downstairs two family residence. Russ’ brother Kenny and his wife Janet had actually rented the ground floor at one point while Russ and Florence lived at 286 Railroad Ave.  Kenny and Janet’s eldest daughter Susan was born while they lived there.

The upstairs kitchen was used as a bedroom for 19 year old Jimmy, with the plumbing left intact. Russ and Florence took the upstairs bedroom that overlooked Nahatan st. Downstairs, the current living room was a dining room and the front bedroom was the den. The current closet in the living room was the downstairs bathroom and the bathroom was  a den, used as a bedroom for Todd at one point.

Russ and Florence loved to go for long rides in the car, with all the kids piled into the backseat.  Sometimes, when Mark was small, he would lay in the back window and fall asleep. Usually they would go to visit someone specific, like Russ’ sister Phyllis in New Hampshire, but often they would just head in a direction and see where they ended up. Their love of yard sales and flea markets began then and continued for the rest of their lives.

Later, after all her kids were in school, Florence got a job with Kitty McDonough at Raytheon putting together vacuum tubes on an assembly line.

papa 034 division

Russ and Florence attended various 1st Marine Division reunions in places like San Antonio, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New Orleans, South Dakota, Washington D.C., Baltimore, San Diego, and Chicago (which was Florence’s favorite). in 1965 the reunion was in New York city and they brought some of the kids with them. Mark was at boy scout camp on Cape Cod and Richie and Todd may not have been there, but Jeff climbed the Statue of Liberty with Florence all the way up to the crown, which was a very long walk.

Florence had just gotten her license before the Philadelphia reunion (1968).  She was 45 years old at the time. Growing up in Dedham, most things were a short walk away and cars were too expensive for her family to afford, so she never bothered to learn to drive. While they were away in Philadelphia at the reunion, Mark and Sharon were sent to her sister Edna’s house.  All the kids attended the Washington reunion the following year. Russ got a spider bite on his hand  right before the trip, which made him incredibly sick at the reunion and Florence had to drive all the way home. It was the longest she had ever driven and they barely made it home in one piece.

By the late 1970’s, she was hired to do housekeeping in “well to do” homes in neighboring Westwood and Dover. Many of her employers were physicians, who she would later see regularly when she got a job at Norwood Hospital in the patient transport department in the 1990’s. Well into her 60’s by then, she was in excellent physical shape and worked at the hospital pushing patients around on stretchers and in wheelchairs until the age of 78. Once she retired,  she volunteered at the hospital for many years afterward just to get out of the house and stay busy.

Well into her later years, she led a very active life. She loved to dance and would go to local establishments to listen to her family sing karaoke.

In her 70’s she and Sharon started going for long walks several times a week. Even after she had her knee replaced, she loved to walk.

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