A Century of Summers

By Mary Jo Curtis / January / February 2006
April 18th, 2007

The year Venetia Mott Rountree graduated from Brown, William Herbert Perry Faunce was its president. The University was still a Baptist school, and like all the presidents before him, Faunce was a Baptist minister. Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States, and Charles Lindbergh was Time's Man of the Year. The Mississippi flooded New Orleans that year, a catastrophic event whose aftermath helped to trigger the New Deal.

All these things will probably be far from Rountree's mind as she celebrates her 100th birthday on January 30, however. She'll more likely be thinking of Block Island, where her family had already been living and working several generations when she was born. Although Rountree has lived in Long Beach, California, for the past fifty years, she returns every summer for a reunion at her family's island home. "Block Island is special," she says, "a small place surrounded by ocean, with fresh air and wonderful stone walls" that bring her back and keep her going.

Rountree's parents built and operated the Narragansett Inn, which is still in the family, and they later acquired Spring House, which Rountree and her sister ran together during summer vacations. At the age of 14, just months after the early death of Rountree's father, her mother sent her - and later her two younger siblings, Samuel and Bernice - off island to Moses Brown High School and then to Brown.

At Brown, Rountree, who attended with the help of a scholarship, studied math, played intramural basketball, was elected Phi Beta Kappa, and cheered on the University's 1926 Iron Men. She remembers her education as "a broadening experience," especially "all the wonderful lectures and concerts." Following graduation, she taught algebra and geometry in Westport, Connecticut, for two years. "My advisor at Brown helped me get the job," she recalls. "Brown was a very friendly place, and professors took a personal interest in my progress. My math classes were mostly male, but I remember the professor was very quietly behind me, reassuring me."

After marrying John Rountree, a captain in the Coast Guard, she followed him through a dozen relocations, including Boston, New York, Savannah, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and even Alaska, where the last of their three daughters was born. When her husband retired from the military, he became harbor director in Long Beach." It was the first time we stayed put," Rountree says with a laugh. "But I found something nice about every place we lived."

Rountree's husband died in 2003. Although she uses a walker, she remains healthy, helped, she believes, by the summer days she still spends lounging on Block Island with her daughters (including Joan Rountree Hayes '54), six grandchildren, and thirteen great-grandchildren, comforted by the idea that the island's landscape will remain long after she's gone.

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January / February 2006