Dorothy E. Rice’s home was a refuge to anyone in need.
Whether it was a foster child from an unstable family situation or an international student who worked during the summer to send money back home, Rice made them feel welcome.
“She always had an open home to whoever needed it,” said Rice’s daughter, Terri Lee Santos of New Bedford.
Growing up in Franklin, Santos said as a child she wasn’t that close to her parents, though that changed in recent years as Rice faced a variety of health challenges, including metastatic lung cancer, advanced liver cancer, and COVID-19.
Rice — a beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother — died on Aug. 15, 2020, from COVID-19 complications, at the CareOne nursing home in New Bedford. She was 80.
Rice was born in Natick and moved to Franklin after marrying her husband, the late Donald Judd Rice, a police officer who had to leave the job after 13 years because of a heart condition. For a time, the family went on public assistance, and Dorothy got a job driving buses to make ends meet.
“She always stepped up to the plate,” Santos said. “Whatever was needed, she took care of it.”
For as long as Santos remembers, the family home was a haven for children in need. Sometimes, a child would stay for a few days or weeks until they could be placed with relatives other than their parents. In some cases, the foster children stayed with the Rice family for years.
“My mom always opened her doors to whoever needed a place,” said Santos, who is now caring for a 30-year-old foster brother with special needs.
Dorothy loved reading romance novels and had a strong interest in ceramics and pottery, not to mention an intense love for pizza from Marc Anthony’s in Onset. And where many might ignore online contests, Dorothy dived into them with relish, often winning random prizes like free mattresses. One time she won an all-expenses-paid trip from Frito-Lay to Washington, D.C.
“They paid for the airfare, a place to stay, a limo ride. We saw the helicopter museum,” Santos said. “She loved doing those online contests.”
On July 4, 2020, Dorothy enjoyed herself during a family gathering at Santos’ house. A couple of days later, she began feeling ill and went to St. Luke’s Hospital. Her health deteriorated over the ensuing weeks, even after she was taken to the CareOne facility.
A day before she died, Santos held an iPad next to her mother so other relatives could say their heartfelt goodbyes. The next morning, Santos received the call to inform her that her mother had died.
Santos remembers her mother as a person with a big heart who “put up with a lot of grief” in life. Santos is happy that not too long before she died, a friend arranged for her mother to drive a Sebring convertible like the one she owned when she was younger.
“She gave a lot,” Santos said. “She didn’t always get as much back in return as she deserved.”
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