Traveling the world, lighthouse by lighthouse
Born in Alleghany County, Maryland, coal country in the poorest county of Appalachia, 73-year-old Doris Sullivan grew up poor. One of five children born to the Harden family, Sullivan remembers a wonderful childhood.
“We grew all our own food and went to town once a month for staples and one bag of penny candy that my Dad would buy to split between the four of us,” she recalls. (One of her siblings died at birth.)
“My Daddy was pretty amazing.”
Her sister, Linda Harden-Lantz, has written a book titled “Harden – The One They Left Behind” – tracing their ancestry all the way back to Wales where, they discovered, they are most probably related to the Middleton family…a well-known name in the Lowcountry.
“There was a band of brothers,” she says, explaining the title, who moved from Maryland to the (then) Northwest Territory – Ohio – and left one brother behind. Sullivan descended from that brother.
Sullivan came to North Charleston as an Air Force wife when her twin boys were 18 months old.
“I was used to poor so we managed on my husband's salary – he was an Airman First Class and eventually rose to Master Sergeant – and we lived in Air Force housing. When he went to Vietnam, I went back to Maryland. But when he returned we came back to Charleston. I had a little girl in 1962, and then twin girls in 1968.”
She notes in her family there are eight generations of twins.
“We went to Wichita Falls, Texas so he could go to load master school for a year and a half and when we came back I said 'I am not moving anymore' so we bought a house in Hanahan.”
“My husband retired in 1974 and left our family in 1979.”
However, says Sullivan, they stayed friends and neither remarried. She attended his funeral last month.
Mother of five, she is grandmother of 10 and, as of last week, great grandmother of nine.
She raised her family and got them all educated, she says proudly, noting her daughters are a nurse practitioner, a fifth grade teacher and the other works for a medical courier service. Her sons are working into their careers she says.
When she turned 60 she says, she got asthma.
“I had a big old house and a big old yard in Hanahan and no one to cut it but me. I had started working in Summerville in 1995 so I sold the house in 2002 and bought a town house where someone else takes care of the yard!” She works for Weber Automotive and has for the past 18 years.
Back on track chronologically, Sullivan says in 1994, in Bible study class, she saw a picture of the ceiling of St. Ignatius Church in Rome. “I said to my [Bible study] leader 'I want to see that in person!' and she said, 'you can, I'll be there next June and if you can save $125 a month you can go too.'”
“I went to my credit union the next morning,” she says, “and opened a savings account I called the LPR – London, Paris, Rome – account. That's what started the travel bug.”
Saving that money was no easy feat and she made it clear to her family that from then on no gifts, just money. So for Mother's Day, birthday, Christmas, she received cash which went straight into her savings account.
It also created a pattern. Every two years she traveled. It took her, she says, about 18 months to two years to save up enough for a trip. In 1995 she went on her first, to London, Paris, Rome and Lucerne, Switzerland. In 2000 she went to Italy for the Pope's Jubilee and in 2002, Amsterdam, Belgium, Cologne, Paris and London.
While in England, she hired a car and went from Dover to Chester and Whitchurch, Wales.
“I was able to find ancestors, the Myddletons, and one of my ancestors was the Mayor of London…coming from coal country it was overwhelming.”
In 2004 she went again to the British Isles to show her children where they came from.
Then she took a bit of a hiatus and didn't travel again until 2010 when she began her lighthouse quest.
“I go to church with Ruby Hannah in North Charleston,” she says, “and she is my lighthouse buddy. She wanted to go to St. Augustine, Florida to see the lighthouse and when a friend heard, she invited us to Stuart, Florida so see that lighthouse.”
She and Hannah decided to continue to Key West when a friend of Hannah's offered the option as a treat.
“It was 30 degrees in St Augustine when we climbed to the top of the lighthouse – 219 steps. I can't explain the feeling I had at the top…that started it…I was hooked.”
She averages about 10 lighthouses a year and has seen 35 since 2010 – and climbed most of them.
She has visited 29 states and Puerto Rico, 16 countries including France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Aruba, Netherlands, Figi, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, St. Thomas, Curacao, St. Martens and dipped her toes in the Adriatic Sea, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, Gulf of Mexico, South Pacific, Atlantic and Pacific.
She and Hannah climb every lighthouse they visit if it is allowed. “Some are really challenging climbs. One,” she said, “was a ladder on the outside.”
The furthest away from home, she says, that she got to see but not climb was in Sydney. That was a trip her daughter and grandchildren took her on to Australia and Sydney.
“If my parents were alive today, they would never believe all I have done,” she says.
“I have seen the five largest churches in Europe and the boyhood home in Epworth England of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church.
Sullivan is also a woodcarver and enjoys being a member of the Charleston woodcarving group. She does a lot of church work and is a member of the United Methodist Women at the local and conference level. She is on her HOA board and, as she says, has “always got my hand in something!”
Her next trip, she says, will be to the Outer Banks lighthouses then she plans to work her way up the coast. “I have done seven [lighthouses] this year and want to get a dozen. Then on to the northeast.”
“When I retire at 75, Ruby and I plan on hitting the road and traveling throughout the United States and the world. There is no end in sight for this journey.
“It hasn't been an easy life, but I don't know if there's anything I would go back and change. I feel so immeasurably blessed.”