Connie Scovill Small, known as the "First Lady of Light" and the honorary chairperson of Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, died at the age of 103 on January 25, 2005, at the Mark Wentworth Home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Connie was born in Lubec, Maine, on June 4, 1901. She and her husband, Keeper Elson Small, lived at several offshore lighthouses in Maine between 1920 and 1946, including Lubec Channel Light (1920-1922), Avery Rock Light (1922-1926), Seguin Island Light (1926-1930), and St. Croix River Light (1930-1946).
Connie grew up with the light from Lubec Channel Light shining into her bedroom window. The first time she visited the lighthouse after marrying Elson, Connie saw the thirty-foot ladder to the entryway and told Elson she couldn't make the climb. He simply told her, "Sure you can, I'll be right behind you," and "Look up, never down." Connie lived the rest of her life by those words.
In 1946, Elson Small became keeper of Portsmouth Harbor Light. Connie described the view from the top of the tower in her 1986 book, The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife:
When Connie and Elson moved to Portsmouth Harbor Light, it was their first home on the mainland in their married life. It was also the first light station where they had electricity. Connie said that this was a thrill, and that they went on an "electric binge," buying appliances for the keeper's house.
But at the same time, there was some sadness when she saw that she could turn on the light in the lighthouse by simply pushing a button. Twenty minutes of slaving over an oil lamp to get it running properly had been replaced by instant light. This was progress of a sort, but it was the beginning of the end for lighthouse keepers.
One of Connie Small's duties at Portsmouth Harbor Light was to fly weather signal flags, signaling mariners of storm or hurricane warnings. She hated to throw the damaged flags away, so she made quilts out of them and gave them to friends.
Connie and Elson Small left Portsmouth Harbor Light in 1948 and moved to Eliot, Maine. Elson died in 1960, and Connie went to work. For a while she sold clothes at Foye's Department Store in Portsmouth. She then had a stint as a head resident at the University of Maine in Farmington. People urged her to write down her lighthouse memories, and she published her book The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife at the age of 85. The University of Maine Press reissued it in a new 1999 edition.
Connie gave about 600 lectures to schoolchildren and other groups on her life at lighthouses. She loved to go to Lighthouse Depot in Wells, Maine, to meet people and sign books. She must have signed thousands of her books over the years. She especially loved meeting children. When the American Lighthouse Foundation honored her at Yoken's restaurant in Portsmouth for her 100th birthday, a group of fourth graders from the Dondero School in Portsmouth sang a song about lighthouses for her. When the children met her, one little girl asked if she could come and live with Connie. Anyone who ever met Connie can understand why this girl felt the way she did. But Connie had to explain that she couldn't take the girl home, as much as she may have wanted to.
On March 23, 2003, members of the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse gave recognition to their "guiding light." The citation presented to Connie in March read:
We've all learned so much from Connie, and we will strive to carry on her life's work of preserving lighthouses and their history. The world is a brighter place because Connie Small was in it, and her guiding light will continue to inspire.