Floral 03

Ethel M. Dowdy

October 11, 1933 ~ October 12, 2019 (age 86)


Ethel M, Dowdy, 86, On Saturday, October 12, 2019 The Good Lord himself came to take his servant home to her eternal resting place on high.  Ethel left peacefully with her family by her side.

Child of The South

The daughter of a sharecropper, Ethel Mae (Dandy) Dowdy aka “Chick” was born the fifth of 16 children in Chappells, S.C., on October 11, 1933 of the late John Dandy and Jessie (Merrion) Dandy.  She was born in the years of the great depression and the run-up to World War II. Farm foreclosures and bank failures were not unusual in the area during the economic hardships of the time. Her father, John Dandy, took a job away from the farm, and the family needed every available hand to work the fields, including young Ethel. Work was at its most intense during the harvest season, from July to October and days picking cotton from sunup to sun- down set the pattern for the tenacious work ethic that would become the hallmark of the life she and John Dowdy Jr. built after marrying and coming to Woonsocket in search of a better life.

It was 1953 when they arrived here, following her older sister who helped start the city’s first African-American Church, today St. James Baptist Church. It was a natural for Ethel to join in this process, and she became and remained an active member. Among the church efforts to which she would dedicate her service for several decades were its Sr, Choir, Voices United, the J.W. Henson Memorial Scholarship Committee, The Missionary Society, The Usher Board, a member of the Young Women’s Progressive Club, Church Treasurer, Member of the Trustee Board, Church Sunday School Teacher and Superintendent. When her church called for her in service, her answer has always been “Yes”.

Active in the community and facing growing racism and discrimination as the community grew, Ethel, with others, helped to bring to Woonsocket the city’s first branch of the NAACP. She had been a member for more than 40 years, as long as there was a branch in Woonsocket. Ethel has served in leadership positions including chairwoman of the Freedom Fund, Advisor of the youth branch as well membership boards.

Her Life’s Work

But the life’s work of the woman who always said yes and who stands up when faced with injustice has been a fierce advocate for children.

She first received a call about a child in need in 1957, whom she opened her heart and her home to. Over the years, Ethel and her family would open their home and foster nearly 80 children.

Ethel and her husband had seven children of their own. When they first arrived in Rhode Island, she sought work at the city’s factories to help support her family here and in South Carolina.

Years later, she agreed to become caretaker for a family in Mendon, MA. On a daily basis, Dowdy would get her own family off to school, work, etc., and then head to Mendon to cook, clean and help a widower rear his 10 children. At day’s end, she would return home, prepare a meal, get the family settled, catch a nap and then head to her night job as a nursing assistant. She maintained this pace over a 22-year period, retiring from the Woonsocket Health Center in 1999 and continuing to work part-time with the elderly for VNA of Greater Woonsocket.

In 1992, Ethel and John were among the first Black couple, if not, the first to adopt a White child through the State of Rhode Island. This adoption did not take place without contention, but Ethel and John fought for this child as if she were theirs, and won.

It is “my” faith, Ethel always said, which fuels my commitment to children. She would cite the Bible when people asked her what enables you to speak up for those too young to advocate for themselves. “For Jesus said, suffer the children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven.”

Ethel’s faith that she - personally - could do a great deal to make the world a better place for individual children has built bridges and has forged solutions.

Ethel spent her life making the impossible possible, bridging the barriers faced by society’s neediest.  Her vision is her legacy. “Be strong and stand up for what is right,” she would say. “Love one another and help each other. When someone is down, lift them up. You’ll get your needs met.”

Ethel leaves to cherish her memory, her two brothers Dwight Dandy and Leroy Dandy.  Her two sisters Josephine Byrd and Emma Dandy. Her children Anthony J. Dowdy, Edward Dowdy and his wife Sheila Dowdy, Larry Dowdy and his wife Lorraine Dowdy, John Dowdy III, Jacqueline Dowdy, Blayne Dowdy and Tiffany O’Hagan.  She leaves 16 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and a list of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends too numerous to name. She was preceded in death by her son Richard L. Dowdy.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Ethel M. Dowdy, please visit our floral store.


October 18, 2019

5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
St. James Baptist Church
340 S Main Street
Woonsocket, RI 02895

Funeral Service
October 19, 2019

11:00 AM to 1:00 PM
St. James Baptist Church
340 S Main Street
Woonsocket, RI 02895


Union Cemetery
North Smithfield
Woonsocket, RI 02895

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