Nancy Robertson Dott
Nancy Robertson Dott died January 13, 2018. She was born on September 20, 1929 in Detroit, Michigan to James and Maud (Bignell) Robertson of Farmington, Michigan.
Nancy graduated from the University of Michigan in 1951 with a major in geology. She met Robert H. Dott, Jr. in geology classes and they were married February 1, 1951. After Ann Arbor, they moved to New York City where Bob entered a PhD program at Columbia University. The couple spent two summers in Nevada where he did field research for his degree. With her geology background, Nancy served as his ever-cheerful field assistant. This kind of partnership characterized their marriage for nearly 67 years.
he couple moved a lot in their early years of marriage. A son, James, was born in Eugene, OR June 17, 1954. Daughter Karen was born at Ft. Devens, MA June 20, 1956. In 1958, the family returned to the Pacific Coast at Los Angeles where son Eric was born July 12. In September that year, Robert accepted a professorship at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where Nancy and Bob have lived ever since. Daughter Cynthia was born there December 21, 1961 and son Brian was born December 8, 1964.
Nancy instilled in all of her family a deep interest in all of Nature. During many summers the whole family camped around the west as Bob directed a university field geology course and conducted research with graduate students. The young Dotts grew up hiking in the western mountains, playing on Oregon beaches, and peeking into tide pools. Mother naturalist oversaw all – even the making of wild blackberry jam on the camp stove! Nine grandchildren have also learned to love nature at Grandma Mimi’s knee.
When the Dotts moved to Madison, Nancy quickly became involved at the First Unitarian Society by teaching classes and participating in the Women’s Alliance. At an annual Holiday Fair, she appeared in costume as the Ginger Bread Man. Nancy also volunteered as a Girl Scout leader. She took her troop on bus trips to Washington, D.C. and St. Louis and led bicycle trips here in Wisconsin. Nancy also volunteered in the HeadStart program. In 2004 she returned to Washington to join a million others in the March for Women’s Lives.
After her children were all in school, Nancy expanded her life-long interest in nature by joining the Naturalist Guides of the University Arboretum. She took relevant courses at the University such as entomology and botany to broaden her background beyond geology. About 1970 a friend, Ruth Southworth, discovered that Nancy had a geology background and recruited her to join her as a Madison Rock Lady presenting geology programs in elementary schools. Nancy often appeared in costume as a giant trilobite. After Ruth retired, Nancy in turn recruited and trained several naturalist friends to become Rock Ladies.
From 1983 to 1999 Nancy and Sue Bridson served as Outdoor Educators in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. This involved field trips on each school’s grounds or in nearby parks to introduce elementary school children to nature. They also created hands-on programs about geology, soils, and water, which they presented in the classrooms. There was also a popular dinosaur program. For the water program, Nancy appeared in costume as red headed Clara the Cleaning Lady. She had a genius for inspiring young children just as she had inspired her own family with her love of nature. She also was always available with much appreciated supportive counsel for colleagues and friends.
The Dotts lived next to Madison’s Hoyt Park. In 1995 Nancy and Bob joined a group of neighbors to form the Friends of Hoyt Park, which has supported the park ever since and has become a model for other such Friends groups in town. The Hoyt Friends conduct regular summer workdays and they helped create a Summer Ranger program. One of the early successes was the expansion of a prairie on the north side of the Park, which Nancy and a friend, Audrey Ready, had begun with Hoyt School students around 1970. Nancy served as one of the first Chair Persons of the Friends and was an enthusiastic leader of the workdays. An engraved boulder of red Baraboo Quartzite honoring Nancy’s and Bob’s services has been placed alongside the trail on the north side of the Park. Nancy also served on the Board of the Friends of the Arboretum and was for many years one of the organizers of the Friends’ annual native plants sale.
Nancy and Bob travelled widely in North America and abroad visiting all of the continents. They lived briefly in England, New Zealand and Australia. Besides experiencing the obvious cultural attractions of their many destinations, she always reveled in the natural history of each place from tropical rain forests to the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica. Such travels and most of the many other activities that she enjoyed were suddenly cut short by a stroke in 2011, which compromised her mobility. Tragically, a very active outdoor life was halted. She and Bob then moved to Oakwood Village on Mineral Point Road where she enjoyed as active a life as possible. The lovely grounds and especially the wooded Conservancy at Oakwood and many birds provided some welcome compensation for the loss of her former ability to roam freely in nature. She enjoyed some of the many programs offered and the stimulating company of the residents and the friendly staff members. With help, Nancy also managed to get to a family reunion on the beloved Oregon coast in 2015, which was the seventh such event since 1995. Nancy also continued to enjoy performances at the American Players Theater, to attend the Unitarian Church, and to shop at a farmers’ market.
The family thanks the wonderful Oakwood Village staff as well as the Agrace Hospice, Comfort Keepers and BrightStar Caregivers for their help.
Nancy is survived by her husband, five children, James (Ann), Karen (William), Eric (Deborah), Cynthia (Gary) and Brian (Sally), nine grandchildren (Kelly, Michael, Gregory, Cori, Gordon, Collin, Helena, Mei Li and Alex) as well as a sister (Catherine Dustin) and brother (David Robertson). Two other sisters preceded her in death (Helen and Janet). Also deceased was AFS Student Peter Iselin of Switzerland, who was a beloved member of the family. Dinesh Gunatilaka from Sri Lanka was a UW student adoptee of the family.
A memorial service will be held for Nancy at the First Unitarian Meeting House on March 3, 2018.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts are suggested to the First Unitarian Society, the University Arboretum or American Players Theater.
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