In Memoriam: Doris Garrett

Mention the name Doris Garrett to any Rodeph Shalom long-time congregant and you will get the same reaction as that expressed by Ivan Gable upon hearing of her death on September 9, 2009:

“Doris Garrett epitomized Rodeph Shalom to many congregants over almost two generations. She was Rabbi Wice’s confidant and represented him ably whenever he was unavailable and a member needed help or advice. She helped prepare brides before their marriages in the sanctuary and was loved by hundreds, if not thousands, of members.”

Doris Garrett came to Rodeph Shalom in 1953 as the first black office employee in the history of RS. Although Doris was a devoted Episcopalian serving as the first woman Secretary of the Vestry (Board) of her church – St. Augustine’s Church of the Covenant, she called herself 40% Jewish and 60% Christian. In 1953 when Doris started working at Rodeph Shalom, she observed that “Jews were being discriminated against, too. A lot comes from stereotypes. People seem to judge ethnic groups by the negative and not the positive. In my opinion, if you truly believe in one God, there shouldn’t be any racism because we are all God’s creation.” Quoted in Anndee Hochman’s Rodeph Shalom: Two Centuries of Seeking Peace, Doris said “Working at Rodeph Shalom gave me the opportunity to enlighten Christians about certain aspects of Judaism.” In turn, Doris arranged for our younger members to attend her church as a means of teaching them about Christianity.

During her four decade tenure at Rodeph Shalom, Doris was a friend and a fount of knowledge, (“Before computers, if anyone wanted to know anything about the congregation, they went to Doris.” Rabbi Wice) to three senior rabbis, 16 associate rabbis, 13 synagogue presidents and thousands of congregants. Her profound insights and generous heart accompanied our congregants through times of joy and heartache. She said of the over 100 weddings she organized that “I’m firm, but not nasty.” Doris received the Selda Frieder Award from the RS Sisterhood in 1993.

Upon her retirement in 1994 the Philadelphia Inquirer did a profile on Doris entitled, “A Beloved ‘Lion-Tamer’ steps aside.” Bonnie Epstein, an administrative assistant, called Doris the lion tamer saying that “This place literally revolves around her.” Rodeph Shalom was not just work for Doris, it was family. Rodeph Shalom was blessed to have Doris Garrett whose life was richly lived and beautifully shared and is now a cherished memory.

If you have personal memories of Doris which you would like to share, please post them in the comment section.

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