Lorraine Bradt Dennis, 99, professor emeritus at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., died Sunday, Jan. 10, at her assisted-living-facility home in Tiverton, R.I.
She was born Lorraine May Bradt to her parents, Maurice Lincoln Bradt and Mary (Martini) Bradt, in Norway, Mich., where Maurice worked as an engineer in the Menominee Iron Range mines.
As a toddler, Lorraine moved with her family to Mahoning Location near Hibbing, Minn. After graduating from Hibbing High School, she enrolled in the five-year nursing program at the University of Minnesota. There she met Larry Dennis, a graduate student in journalism at the university. They married in 1943, raised four children, divorced in 1972, then reconciled and lived together until Larry’s death in 1990. (“Some people have a marriage that didn’t work out,” Lorraine would say. “We had a divorce that didn’t work out.”)
Lorraine’s career included stints as a nurse at Stanford University Hospital during World War II, a nursing instructor at Plattsburg (N.Y.) State Teachers College, a psychology professor — after earning a master’s degree in that field from Kansas State — at Drake University in Des Moines, a psychology instructor to student nurses in Lewistown, Pa. (a job for which there was an inadequate text, thereby convincing Lorraine to write her first textbook, “Psychology of Human Behavior for Nurses”), and a psychology professor first at Marymount College in Virginia and second, memorably, at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.
Lorraine started teaching at Roger Williams in 1968, when the institution was a junior college located in the YMCA building in downtown Providence. She helped inaugurate the college’s new campus on the Bristol shoreline in 1969, taught at the school through its name change to Roger Williams University in 1992 and continued until 2001, when upon her retirement at age 80, she was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor of Psychology.
Among the courses that she taught at RWC was Human Sexuality. During her 60s and 70s, Lorraine’s upbeat teaching style and skill at helping students talk knowledgeably and without embarrassment about the subject led to her being nicknamed “Roger Williams’ own Dr. Ruth.”
The doctoral reference was real, because during the 1970s, Lorraine — then in her 50s — had taken a year’s sabbatical from Roger Williams, and used that time to earn a University of Florida PhD.
A source of great joy to Lorraine, her family and extended family were annual reunions during the summer, starting in 1959 at Moats Resort in Ely, Minn., later at White Iron Beach Resort, also in Ely. The 61-year tradition continues, and when families gather this summer at White Iron Beach Resort, coffee cups will be raised and loving stories will be told about “Grandma Lorraine.”
In 2014, Lorraine moved to Atria Aquidneck Place, an assisted living facility in Portsmouth, R.I. At Atria, between her daily, four-times-around-the-facility walks (eventually using a walker), she organized social gatherings, bocce tourneys and an annual reading of the Declaration of Independence, among other events. “She’s practically the mayor of this place,” an Atria worker once said with a smile.
Lorraine is survived by her children, Patrick of Charlotte, N.C., Brian (Lisa Washburn) of Troy, Idaho, Deborah (Joe Domingoes) of Portsmouth, R.I., and Tom (Vivian Grams) of Grand Forks, N.D.; 12 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren and one step-great-grandchild; sister, Marjorie (Donald) Markwardt of Hoyt Lakes, Minn.; former daughters-in-law, Ginger Dennis of Moscow, Idaho, and Debbie Parris Dennis of East Bend, N.C.; and other dear relatives and former colleagues and students, all of whom mourn the passing of one of the world’s great mothers, grandmothers, professors, feminists, conversationalists and friends.
She was preceded in death by her parents; husband and partner, Larry Dennis; sister, Helen Borgeson; brother-in-law, Oliver Borgeson; and daughter-in-law, Laurie Dennis.
Due to COVID restrictions, a memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Women’s Resource Center, 114 Touro Street, Newport, R.I., 02840.