Having been in the newspaper profession longer than I ever anticipated, I’ve met, interviewed and written about thousands of people. A great many of them — I’m always happy to add — were from my “hometown” of Pictou County.
So I wasn’t at all surprised that a recent question had come from an elderly Pictonian who said he had read my column in The Advocate a couple months ago, the one that marked my 65th anniversary in the media. It was that column that prompted his query.
“What,” he asked, “was the most emotional, most moving story you have ever written about someone in Pictou County?”
I didn’t give him an immediate reply. I couldn’t. It was something I had to think about.
Now, after a lot of thought, a lot of reflection, a lot of searching through my files, I’m able to answer.
I confess, it was a story I’ve addressed a number of times — initially in the Evening News back in the late 1950s, in The Chronicle Herald more than once, and most recently a decade ago in the Advocate.
It was partly a love story, partly a sports story — definitely an emotional story of a woman’s love for her bed-ridden husband. It was a story I never tired of updating. After all this time, I still feel a tear or two when I recall the details. Honestly, they were both an inspiration to visitors like me.
It all began in 1939.
That’s when Aubrey Dorrington, then a 26-year-old Stellarton coal miner who worked in the pits of the Allan Shaft, married Mildred Sangster, a 19-year-old who grew up just across the town limits in New Glasgow and was employed at a local bakery.
Prior to their marriage, life had been tough for Aubrey.
He was born and raised in an apartment above a store at the corner of Foord Street and Acadia Avenue. When he was 13, his father, a coal miner, died in an accident. Aubrey left school in grade six to go underground.
After the wedding, things were okay — but not for long.
Aubrey and Mildred were living in the front rooms of his mother’s home on Hudson Street. He joined the militia with the Pictou Highlanders and, with the outbreak of the Second World War, he enlisted with the regular army. He was posted to Mulgrave, but never got to go overseas. He was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and, by 1942, he was told he would be bed-ridden for the rest of his life.
Miners and friends helped the couple build a porch on the front of the house. Aubrey would spend 35 years in that porch — until he died in 1976 at the age of 63.
Aubrey had played baseball and other sports as a kid, and never lost interest in athletic experiences. Mildred didn’t want him to lose contact with the local sports scene, so she found a way to bring local sports to him.
When the Stellarton Albions joined the Halifax and District Baseball League in 1950, I began noticing Mildred at the games. I was soon referring to her as “the woman with the camera.”
Not only was she photographing the players, she was going home after each game and, late at night in the dark, she spent hours developing her film.
The photos brought smiles to Aubrey’s face.
Mildred photographed every Albion player during Stellarton’s nine years in the league from 1950 through 1958. Even after the franchise folded, many of those players — most of them young Americans — kept coming back and visiting Aubrey and Mildred when they were back in the county.
Mildred’s devotion didn’t stop there. There were also the many, many hockey players and teams that she photographed, and the many people in other walks of life that got her camera’s attention.
I visited Aubrey and Mildred in that porch several times.
I can remember sitting there, thinking to myself, how could a person be there in bed, day after day, year after year, and still sound enthusiastic? That impressed me as much as anything about Aubrey.
I didn’t realize the extent of the picture taking until I visited their daughter Carolyn a couple years after Mildred’s death in 2007. Carolyn did a count: there were 207 photo albums, 80 scrapbooks, more than 100 movie films and countless loose photos and souvenirs.
Yes, the sports world came to Aubrey — and it wasn’t limited to Mildred’s photographic efforts.
Sports people and other celebrities came to the porch, too.
I took hockey stars Frank Mahovlich and Jacques Plante there when I had them in the county in the 1960s.
Hockey’s Peter Mahovlich and George Armstrong were there, as well. So was the legendary Gordie Howe. So were Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, Col. Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, the Irish Rovers and Stompin’ Tom Connors.
The list was endless.
That would include the day an entire baseball team arrived at the door. There were more than a dozen players and, Mildred opined later, her only concern was that the porch might collapse.
Yes, “the woman with the camera” was busy for a very long time — right up until Aubrey’s passing.
There was another thing about Aubrey that should be remembered. He loved more than sports. He loved the old coal mining town and, despite being bed-ridden for more than half his life, he loved everything and everyone around him.
And, no surprise, the town didn’t forget him.
Years ago — not far from where the Albions used to play — a ball field complex was named in Aubrey’s honour. To this day, many, many youngsters in the community have enjoyed playing at Dorrington Field.
After all the years since I last saw Aubrey and Mildred in that little porch, I can still picture how happy they were together, how much they meant to one another.
It was inspiring indeed.