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Ten lines a day, for 78 years

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2003 - Summer


Albert Doty Spicer, M.D. ’37, D.M.D., was 13 when he wrote the first entry in his diary—and every day since, for 78 years, he’s written 10 lines a day that record changes in 20th-century life. Spicer’s diary served as the basis for a recently published history of his hometown of Westerly, R.I., that describes the mundane and the memorable, from playing mumble-the-peg to dancing in the streets on V-J Day in 1945.

Momentous Events in Westerly, Rhode Island includes historic photographs of the seaside town and Spicer’s recollections: he watched the total eclipse of the sun—and saw a German dirigible on the same day—in 1925, the year he began writing. (He’s never missed a day since, though he had to dictate his entries a few times following two strokes.) In 1927, when he was 15, he saw the Spirit of Saint Louis circle over Providence, R.I., and then glimpsed pilot Charles Lindbergh drive by in an open car. Spicer describes the hurricane of 1938, which washed away a swath of the resort towns of Weekapaug, Misquamicut and Watch Hill. “Where there had been hundreds of houses, the beach was wiped clean. …” Spicer also recalls after-school escapades, including skijoring, in which a trotting horse pulled people on skis behind it. Spicer writes about the night the Westerly Fire Station burned down in 1927. He describes his mother’s cumbersome bathing costume, including stockings and shoes worn while swimming. When two-piece bathing suits first appeared in the 1930s, he recalls seeing a man on the beach “reading” an upside-down newspaper.

Although Spicer planned to study dentistry from the outset, he attended medical school because his father advised that a foundation in medicine would help him. An internship at Pawtucket Memorial Hospital allows Spicer to boast, “I’m the only dentist who’s delivered 60 babies.” After earning his dental degree at Harvard, Spicer set up an office in the town where his father and grandfather had served as dentists before him. His son, Albert D. Spicer Jr., was in his final year of dental school when he was killed in a car accident in 1965. Spicer’s daughter, Judith Spicer Knutson, helped assemble the book.

Spicer said the biggest change he saw during his career was the evolution from corrective to preventive dental care. He experimented with using music as an alternative to anesthesia. Spicer said the technique worked for most patients but never caught on. Anesthesia with a needle seems simpler and quicker to most dentists, he says.

Spicer lives by the Atlantic on Weekapaug Point in Westerly. He gave up skiing six years ago, at age 85, and has sold his sailboat, but he and his wife, Marion, welcome invitations to crew. Spicer has simple advice about what we should all be doing for our teeth: “Hang onto them!”

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