When Granny D Walked Across America

NOTE: Doris “Granny D” Haddock died in Dublin, New Hampshire, March 9, 2010, at the age of 100. This article is from Yankee Magazine November 2000. The rising sun brings veils of mist out of the damp soil, and the rain-swollen stream tumbles jubilantly behind Doris Haddock‘s Dublin, New Hampshire, home. Delivered Daily: The Latest […]

By Edie Clark

Mar 10 2010

Granny D

Doris Haddock walked the walk for 3,200 miles wrapped in a reform flag. Photo by Dana Smith Photography

Photo Credit : Dana Smith

NOTE: Doris “Granny D” Haddock died in Dublin, New Hampshire, March 9, 2010, at the age of 100. This article is from Yankee Magazine November 2000.

Doris Haddock walked the walk for 3,200 miles wrapped in a reform flag. Photo by Dana Smith Photography
Doris Haddock walked the walk for 3,200 miles wrapped in a reform flag. Photo by Dana Smith Photography
Photo Credit : Dana Smith

The rising sun brings veils of mist out of the damp soil, and the rain-swollen stream tumbles jubilantly behind Doris Haddock‘s Dublin, New Hampshire, home.

Into this new morning, Doris steps from her front door, her walking shoes on, the long sleeves of her denim shirt buttoned at the wrists to discourage biting insects. “Which way shall we walk?” the five-foot-tall great-grandmother asks. I’ve come to walk with my neighbor, Granny D, our local hero, the 90-year-old woman who recently returned home from a very long walk.

When she was 88, Doris said she’d walk across the country to call attention to campaign finance reform, the effort to stem contributions that slip through not-quite-illegal channels from corporations and special interest groups into the pockets of political candidates. To Doris, this so-called “soft money” is the root of all that is wrong with our democracy.

Starting in California, she planned to walk ten miles a day for one year and to enter the nation’s capital on her 90th birthday, on foot. Like many women her age, she had arthritis and emphysema, but this did not stop her. Her son (and next-door neighbor), Jim, said more than once, “She’ll die trying,” for he knew better than any of us her stubborn spirit.

With Jim’s guidance, she began to train for her journey. On our back roads we’d encounter her, this diminutive lady, a heavy pack on her back. For months she walked the winding, hilly roads of Dublin, logging nearly a thousand miles. She slept on the ground to prepare for what she imagined might lie ahead. All the while, she was trying to get newspapers and magazines interested in her mission.

“No one seemed to believe that I could do it,” she says now, as we begin our walk down the gravel road.

The idea had come to her when she was visiting with Jim in Florida one year. “We were driving through the Everglades, and I saw an old man walking along the roadside. He was carrying a bag in one hand and a cane in the other, and it looked as if he had all of his worldly possessions with him. I said to Jim, ‘What on earth do you suppose he is doing?’ And he said, ‘Well, Ma, it looks like he’s on the road.’ And I said, ‘You mean on the road like Willie Nelson?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Like Jack Kerouac?’ ‘Yes!’ So we discussed this for a while. My husband died in 1993. He had Alzheimer’s for a long time, and I took care of him. After that, I just wanted to go, go, go. To get away! And so I said to Jim, ‘Haven’t you ever wanted to walk across the country?’ And he said, ‘Well, yes, but I have to earn a living and you’re too damn old!’ And I said, ‘Says who?’

“Jim knows me pretty well. You get to a certain age and your children start to act like they are your parents. So he thought about that for a while and then he said, ‘Well, you cannot go across the country without a cause.’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you think I’ve been working on for the past two years — campaign finance reform!’ And he said, ‘Oh my God.’ ”

Doris was a long-time member of what is known in these parts as the “Tuesday Morning Academy,” an informal gathering of older women who come together on Tuesday mornings to focus on literature, art, and politics. For the Tuesday academy, Doris had researched the issue of campaign finance reform and the academy had been following the weak attempts Congress had been making to fix the problem — rather like trying to change a flat tire while the car is still rolling. This was long before the issue had become a common phrase on the nightly news.

When Doris returned from Florida, she announced to her “classmates” that she would be making this walk. She mapped out her trip and members of the academy helped link her with friends in towns where she would be walking. Soon she had an itinerary, with a star next to towns where she could be assured of lodging. For each of the towns where she knew no one, she contacted the local police and hoped to convince them to let her sleep in an empty jail cell. She herself knew nothing about computers, but her grandson Joey designed a Web site for her. They called it and with that she hoped that anyone who was interested could follow her journey.

Her rhetoric poised, Doris Haddock began trekking on her 89th birthday, January 29, 1999, in Pasadena, California, where she had hoped to strike up some attention by walking in the Rose Bowl Parade. To her surprise, they banned her from walking in the parade because she was walking for a cause. That was her first tussle with authorities.

Disappointed but undeterred, she walked after the parade had ended, wearing a high-visibility jogger’s vest, a gardener’s straw hat, and sturdy boots, and carrying a 25-pound pack on her back. On her shoulder, braced like a soldier’s rifle, she carried a big flag she had stitched that said, simply, “Campaign Finance Reform.” Those first days were slow going.

Jim kept in constant touch with his mother and joined her when he could. Friends from Dublin and members of her Tuesday Morning Academy flew out to walk with her. She walked through Pasadena and Colton and Redlands and into Twentynine Palms, and then into Arizona. Through Parker, Bouse, Salome, Wickenburg, she trudged her way.

She rose early to beat the heat, but in the Mojave Desert, she collapsed. Severely dehydrated, she spent four days in the hospital. A sympathetic supporter named Dennis Burke took her back to his house, and he and his wife helped her recuperate.

Now as we walk beside the bog near her home, Doris remembers this time in the desert as a kind of turning point. “Dennis decided I needed a camper, something I could sleep in at night. He went to a used-car dealer and convinced them to ‘lend’ us a camper for two weeks. That was the start of it.”

Her collapse in the desert had attracted attention in the news media. Doris Haddock’s campaign had truly begun. “It gathered a certain momentum,” she says now, perhaps an understatement from a woman who was subsequently listed by the magazine George, alongside Madeline Albright, Hilary Clinton, and Elizabeth Dole, as one of the 20 most fascinating women in politics.

Shouldering her yellow flag, wearing T-shirts and khaki shorts in the heat, heavy woolen pants and sweaters in the cold. Doris marched like a soldier through Los Lunas, New Mexico; Dalhart, Texas; Hooker, Oklahoma; Kismet, Kansas; Mack’s Creek, Missouri; Odin, Illinois; Versailles, Indiana; Chillicothe, Ohio: Clarksburg, West Virginia; Falls Church, Virginia; and all the little towns and big cities in between. She finally strode right into our nation’s capital, just two months late.

Doris never had to sleep on the ground or in a jail cell, and she never missed a meal. Her arthritic pains left her and her emphysema all but vanished. “I had an inhaler when I started,” she says, “but I don’t know what happened to it. I must have lost it.”

On morning walks along the familiar roads near her house, Doris’s child-size feet track at a good pace. She dislikes hills, and when the road steepens, her breath quickens and she recalls the “worst” part of her journey: West Virginia. “It was cold,” she says. “And there were lots of hills.”

Eventually Jim bought a used camper for his mother to use. On the back he had printed: CAUTION! 90-year-old walker ahead! Support Campaign Finance Reform! The camper is now parked in Jim ‘s driveway, a bright reminder of Doris’s triumph.

When Doris arrived home, the bands played and Dublin threw a big party. The invitations for her to speak seemed endless. Most of us who had bid her good-bye were amazed to find that, 3,200 miles later, Doris looked stronger, younger, more alive. She not only walked 3,200 miles, she also delivered hundreds of speeches, nothing she had ever done before.

In Toyah, Texas, she told the crowd, “We didn’t send our young men and women off to fight for a government of, by, and for the corporations.” In Nashville, Tennessee, she said, “We must provide a public financing system for candidates. Otherwise, the candidates are not honestly offering themselves to us. They are already sold.” In Texarkana, she said, “It’s obscene to have to raise that kind of money [the millions funneled to campaigns] when children are going to bed ill and old people are eating pet food. It’s simply insane.”

Radical words for anyone but Granny D. In Parker, Arizona, she was welcomed by the Marine Corps Marching Band. Along her way, politicians fell in and out with Doris Haddock, trying to set their feet on her untarnished path.

Granny D walked through four pairs of shoes and staunchly refused the contract Nike offered her, in spite of her very real need for money to keep her walk going. She exhausted four sun hats and dozens of walking companions. She walked the walk and talked the talk through 208 towns and 13 states.

At her welcome-home party in Dublin, she said , “I am thankful to New England for raising its children with businesslike severity so that we might be a little tough and more courageous and become, after long lives here, great connoisseurs and critics of beauty and community … Wherever I went across America, people wanted to shake my hand and wish me well, not because they thought I was something special, but because I was someone like them. Americans are not selfish. They are kind and full of great spirit.”

Two months after she arrived home, Doris returned to Washington, D.C., to once again call attention to her cause. Surrounded by supporters, Doris stood in the rotunda of our Capitol building and read the Declaration of Independence. As she read, police arrested her for demonstrating. They put her hands behind her back and cuffed her. She and her supporters (including her son, Jim, and several of her elderly lady friends from the Tuesday Morning Academy) were taken by bus to the police station to be booked. She was released, and a month later she came before the court in Washington to answer charges.

She faced the judge and read her statement: “Your honor, the old woman who stands before you was arrested for reading the Declaration of Independence in America’s Capitol building. I did not raise my voice to do so and I blocked no hall … Your honor, we would never seek to abolish our dear United States. But alter it? Yes. It is our constant intention that it should be a government of, by, and for the people, not the special interests … In my 90 years, this is the first time I have been arrested. I risk my good name, for I do indeed care what my neighbors think about me. But, your honor, some of us do not have much power, except to put our bodies in the way of injustice — to picket, to walk, or to just stand in the way. It will not change the world overnight, but it is all we can do.”

The judge could have imposed a six-month sentence on Doris and charged her $500. Instead he charged her $10, an administrative fee, and praised her for acting on behalf of the “silent masses.” He told her to “take care, because it is people like you who will help us reach our destiny.”

Our walk this morning has been brief, a mere three miles. Tomorrow morning, she will address the Rotary, and the next day she will be at a rally in Boston. Just the week before, she sat on a podium alongside Jane Fonda and Ted Turner at Emerson College, and together, the three of them received honorary doctorate degrees. Next week, she will be addressing the graduates. And in August, she will decline an offer to become the Reform
Party’s vice-presidential nominee. It’s the never-ending story of Doris Haddock.

In Doris’s back bedroom, big golden keys to dozens of cities across the country adorn the bureau and the closet pole sags with all the T-shirts and hats that were given to her a long the way. A bulging scrapbook holds the texts of all the speeches she delivered as she made her way across the country, including one on the floor of the United States Senate. Before her 89th birthday, Doris had never given a public speech in her life.

But now she is pushing 91, which apparently to Doris does not mean the end, but the beginning. “It’s the power of one,” she says. And then she adds, “Only in America!”