Dorothy “Dotti” Rackliffe was a clown. She also was an artist, mother, golfer, world traveler, skier, a woman of deeply held convictions. But these descriptions only skim the surface of a life that was fathoms deep, a life that touched all who encountered it.
Dotti passed recently, surrounded by her son, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Though no passing is easy, some are easier than others and according to Dotti’s son, Gary Rackliffe, his mother had lived a rich, full life, one with few regrets and fewer challenges left unmet.
“She had checked off everything on her bucket list,” Rackliffe said. “She had 91 years of life and each one was lived to the brim. She was ready to go.”
Rather than mourn her passing, Rackliffe and other family members have chosen to celebrate a life well lived. At upcoming memorial services in Greenville and Seattle — where she whiled out the final years of her life with her son — Rackliffe plans to share his mother’s many accomplishments and achievements.
Rackliffe recalls a bustling childhood, filled with siblings and parents who were “always busy” with projects, chores and games.
“There was a certain busyness around the house,” Rackliffe said. “Mother was always doing things, baking bread and planning dinner parties. She was very active.”
Rackliffe describes the young Dotti as a woman who “had a certain sense of how things should be done.” Her opinions were strongly held and freely shared. Dotti’s high standards informed her life and the lives of those around her.
Community, education and most importantly, family were the foundation upon which Dotti built her world.
Born one late May day in 1921, Dotti would experience a world in flux, a world that moved from milk delivered via horse-drawn carriage to astronauts walking on the moon. Through it all, her moral code and faith in God and family served as both anchor and sextant, foundation and guide.
Even in the ’50s and ’60s, though, Dotti was much more than “just” a homemaker. She was active in community theater, taught classes on the finer points of playing bridge, competed in golf tournaments and even performed as a clown.
An avid artist, Dotti created numerous paintings and drawings of Greenville landmarks.
In her 60s, when many folks are beginning to slow down a bit, Dotti took up skiing. And like all things she tried, she achieved a certain level of expertise, going so far as to be featured on the ABC television program “Wide World of Sports” when she was a national finalist in the NASTAR racing program.
Once her sons — Gary, Craig and Lee — graduated from elementary school, Dotti found work with Greenville Printing Company where she eventually advanced to head of the composition department.
Though her formal education went only through high school, Dotti was instrumental in helping to establish Montcalm Community College and spent years mentoring elementary and junior high students.
Never content to gather moss, Dotti and her husband David visited all 50 states in the days when freeways were still a novelty. After David retired, the couple moved to Austria where they lived for a decade. While there, Dotti’s adventures appeared as a series of articles in The Daily News.
In 2012, Dotti moved to Seattle to live with her son’s family. Even then, she kept close contact with the friends she had made over her long life in Greenville.
According to Rackliffe, Greenville resident and Daily News columnist Maureen Burns was one of his mother’s closest friends. Burns remembers Dotti as one of those special people who come along but rarely.
“Dotti was a motivator for the world,” Burns said. “She made us better people and left the world a better place. She touched more lives than she ever knew. The world, especially my world, is dimmer now. That bright ray of sunshine called Dotti Rackliffe has moved on.
“Oh, how blessed I was to call her dear friend for so many years. She was unique and special and has left a hole in my heart and world. I am so grateful for having had her for so long.”
No passing is easy; every candle that goes out leaves the world a little darker. But in some cases, the light lingers on and the passing truly is a chance for celebration rather than regret. In Dotti’s case, the light she leaves behind will no doubt linger a long, long time.
A service for Rackliffe is set for 2 p.m.Sunday First Congregational Church in Greenville.