The Way We Were: Dottie S. Dorion – The Resident Community News Group, Inc.

Engagement of Dottie and George Dorion, 1957

Dottie Dorion is a Long Island native, born Dorothy Simpson in Floral Park, New York in 1934, but has lived in Jacksonville for more than five decades. She came here in 1971 from Puerto Rico so that her husband, George, could build a laboratory for the family business, Bacardi. Prior to their stay in Puerto Rico, the couple and their four children – Mark, Christopher, Timothy and Lisanne – had lived in several other places in the United States.

They came here at the request of Charlie Towers, the legendary lawyer and civic leader. For the expedition, Bacardi needed a body of water and a station. Jacksonville had both plus lots of reasonably priced land. At the welcome party that Towers had insisted on, Dorion was “blown away” by the whimsy of it all – the elaborate spread, the huge bouquets, the beehive hairstyles. She then realized that even the attire was quite different in the South than anywhere else they had lived.

During their first six months in Jacksonville, the Dorions stayed at Baymeadows, which consisted of a gas station and a single housing complex. The apartments there were all one-bedroom layouts, so the Dorions rented two. Half of the family lived in one apartment and the other half in the second.

“When we moved here, all the stores were downtown, all of them. Nothing was practical. And our only restaurant was The River Club, but women weren’t allowed to be members there at the time,” Dorion said. She said that at lunchtime, a curtain closed off a section where women could sit separated from men. “We were isolated,” she said.

The family settled in Deerwood after construction of their home was completed. At the time, the neighborhood consisted of over 10,000 acres of woods, some of it swampy, with only about 25 houses built on dirt roads. There was no grocery store in sight. And all the lakes were loaded with alligators. Armadillos, deer and wild boar roamed the golf course. “It was kind of like the Wild West here,” Dorion said.

She and her husband encountered snakes while walking around the property. Their children’s entertainment at night consisted of hunting the grounds with flashlights and fetching golf balls from the lakes, which baffled Dorion, given the abundant wildlife. On occasion, a buffalo roamed the streets, having escaped from the yard of the Davis family, those who eventually donated much of their land to the Mayo Clinic.

In the 1970s, Southside Boulevard had only two lanes. It was a safe and friendly neighborhood. Dorion rode her bike and waved to neighbors as she rode. “There was no traffic problem. But eventually, that all changed,” she said.

Columbia University School of Nursing, 1957
Columbia University School of Nursing, 1957

Dorion holds an active Registered Nurse license and is a co-founder of the Volunteers in Medicine clinic in Jacksonville. She is one of the original founding members of the Hospice of Northeast Florida, recalling her humble beginnings with a table, chair and filing cabinet under the stairs of the Red Cross building on Riverside Avenue. Dorion has also worked at Riverside and Hope Haven Children’s Hospitals, among others.

Although her registered nurse license was transferable from Puerto Rico, her teaching license was not. In 1972, Dorion began taking classes at the University of North Florida (UNF) to be recertified in the state as a special education teacher. The UNF was totally unknown at that time. The school was a single building on a dirt road in the woods. “It was another Wild West,” Dorion said. The staff was so small that the teachers were also the administrators. Today, Dorion considers some of them his friends, because together they had established the school’s athletic department in the early 80s.

While Dorion’s four children attended Jacksonville Episcopal High School, she had the opportunity to meet parents from Ortega, St. Augustine and other areas. But it was not common in those days for the ladies to mingle too far outside of their local neighborhood. By her late thirties, Dorion had grown bored with the local women’s tennis scene – she had been a ranked player while living in California and Puerto Rico; so she started trail running with her youngest son. “That’s when I realized what a state I was in. I was huffing and huffing,” she said. Dorion swore she would one day run a marathon.

Dottie Dorion, 2015 Rowing Championship
Dottie Dorion, 2015 Rowing Championship

She became involved in the Jacksonville Track Club and Fun Run events at what was then called Jacksonville Community College (JCC). She helped organize the first River Run. While working on his fitness, Dorion simultaneously worked on his career, running a summer day camp at Jacksonville Country Day School for children with learning disabilities. She ran the Kadis Learning Center in Orange Park for a time and taught at Hope Haven. She also supported her husband in the family business, including developing the bottling plant on Ocean Way in Northside, which started as a trailer in the woods when they arrived in Jacksonville, which served as a control lab for quality.

After sustaining a racing injury, Dorion became an avid cyclist. She changed her wish from a marathon to a triathlon. The only problem was that she wasn’t swimming. So she joined the Riverside Y and learned there in the pool before hiring a private trainer. She was over 40 when she completed her first local triathlon in 1980, using a red 3-speed Schwinn. She was 51 when she finished the Ironman in Hawaii in 1985, placing 6th.

Dottie Dorion is kayaking on the lake
Dottie Dorion is kayaking on the lake

Dorion remained a member of the US triathlon team for 17 years. She led the Women’s World Triathlon Committee for a time and co-wrote Beyond Triathlon: A Dual Memoir of Masters Women Athletes, which is currently being adapted into a documentary film.

Today, Dorion is nearly 90 years old. Besides being a retired teacher, a former triathlete and a nurse who still offers sports medicine consultations, Dorion is an artist. Many might recognize her from a recent exhibition she held at St. John’s Cathedral. As for creative training, Dorion took all the art classes she could choose from while majoring in nursing.

Painting by Dottie Dorion, 2022
Painting by Dottie Dorion, 2022

Dorion still resides in the same Deerwood home and she has three grandchildren scattered across the country. Her sixty-three-year-old husband succumbed to cancer in 2021. As a nurse, she had always told her children: “If you don’t have health, you have nothing. Dorion lacks his sense of humor.

She continues to live the philosophy she shared with her husband: there is more happiness in giving than in receiving. She has eight scholarships to UNF, several to Columbia University School of Nursing, her alma mater, and a few to Williams College. There is an established scholarship program for the children of their Bacardi employees.

The Dorion family
The Dorion family

She has been, and remains, involved in too many committees to mention and has served on a long list of community boards. Dorion is still passionate about trying to achieve equality for women in sport. She put a lot of effort into Title IX issues in the 70s and now communicates with people in decision-making positions, even in Europe, regarding current transgender issues in sports. “We still don’t know how this is all going to turn out,” she said. But she intends to stay to find out.

By Mary Wander
Resident Community News

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