Whenever Diane Marie Fry came home to New Bedford, she’d inevitably find old sketches in a closet — illustrations that her mother had drawn more than 50 years ago for retail advertisements in newspapers.
“I’d say, ‘Oh my gosh, these are beautiful,’” said Fry, who described her mother, Alice Cecile Languirand Bernier, as an “amazingly” talented artist, who in her later years could still wow the staff at the Brooklawn Seniors Center with her sketches of people there.
“She’d gotten a scholarship to go attend New York School of Design,” Fry said. “But her dad didn’t want her to go. In those days, girls often didn’t go to college.”
Bernier, who grew up in a time when women’s career and educational opportunities were restricted, never had the opportunity to channel her artistic passions into a rewarding full-time career. She married at 24; she gave birth to seven children; and her energies were consumed on the home front. “She was too busy with all the kids,” Fry said.
Bernier, who never expressed regrets about what might have been, carved out some time to attend the Swain School of Design and found part-time work as an artist and fashion illustrator at Cherry & Webb, Wings, and later for Alan Adas.
“She’d sit next to the boss, and women would come in with the fur coats and clothing, and she’d have a couple of days to do all the sketches because the paper had to go out to print and get published for Sunday,” Fry said.
As the family grew, Bernier stopped sketching for newspaper ads, but continued working part time by drawing sketches for clothing retail sales tags. Growing up, Fry remembers “always” seeing a mannequin in her mother’s room.
“She’d stick me in the yard with the kids,” Fry said. “I’d be the babysitter, and she’d be inside, sketching.”
“That was her passion and her livelihood, and it helped keep our mouths fed,” said her son, Robert Bernier, who remembers his mother as a “happy-go-lucky” person who loved her family and traveled “everywhere” with her late husband of 67 years, Gerard Bernier.
“Mom always went over and above on holidays,” he said. “She made sure that we all had mounds of presents at Christmas and on our birthdays. Because in her family growing up, it was a scarcity there, so she made sure we were never without.”
Alice Bernier died June 6, 2020, from COVID-19 complications. She was 96. Bernier had been diagnosed with COVID-19 about a week before she died at St. Luke’s Hospital.
“The hardest thing for all people is that they couldn’t be with their loved ones, and their loved ones had to die alone,” said Fry, who along with other relatives used their iPads to sing songs, say prayers and offer their goodbyes to Bernier as she lay in her hospital bed.
“We would try to keep doing that, even though there was no response from her,” Fry said, adding that a niece live-streamed the funeral Mass so she could watch it from her home in California.
“I thought, ‘Mom, you lived a good life. You would just be totally freakin’ lonely living in a nursing home.’ I believe she’s in a better place,” Fry said.
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