Thursday, October 11, 2018

My Father’s First Wife—From Pa’s to Jaws

Peter Warren and Ann Gordon Newlyweds

My husband recently asked me what I was working on in and I said "my father's first wife's fourth husband." Here's the second in the series Relatively Speaking, profiles of the characters I have discovered in piles from the past. Here I introduce you to Ann Gordon.

My father’s first wife was Ann Gordon from Bethel, Maine. I never heard good things about Ann. Just that she went on to get married four or five more times. It was really only three more times. And that my father was "on the rebound" after the divorce. And that this was hard for him.

So who is this Ann, this marrying kind, this Helen of Troy who launched 1,000 marriage certificates?

For some reason my father had and kept all their wedding photos. That ought to tell you something. A pack of 8 X 10 prints were still in an addressed manila envelope when I found them. I am not sure I was meant to find them, but after my parents died I found a lot of secret family records and photos.  They left me a pile of information and I’ve had a pile of questions ever since.

But by all appearances they had a lovely wedding in Maine in June 1947. He was 31 and she was 21.
What went wrong?

She left the marriage with my father after a few short years and married someone in the neighborhood. Cape Elizabeth, Maine is a chichi suburb of Portland and there are well to do without to do lists, and it would be easy for them all to be intertwined. Cape Elizabeth is only about this big “.” And they all had to know each other, right? In October 1951 Ann becomes Mrs. Norman Millet Thomas.

So this Norman Millet Thomas was interesting. He was an artist about whom it was written: “There are few US artists from the twentieth century whose artistic diversity and breadth of life experience can rival that of Norman Thomas. His accomplishments ranged from Pulitzer Scholarship, to combat artist during World War II, publication in Life magazine, sculptor for the US Coast Guard War Memorial, producer of a 1961 film banned by the Mexican Government, and influential member of Studio 88 in California. His friends and circle included Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and David Siqueiros.” More on Norm.

 Sounds cool right? Boom! He is out after three years and she is remarried in June of 1954. The next dude was the treasurer of the University of Maine in Bangor. Harry W. Gordon. And she is marrying someone with her maiden name. How convenient. Now she can be Anne Gordon-Warren-Thomas-Gordon-Bowie. Or just Anne Gordon twice. So now she has gone from being the wife of an artist to a wife in academia.

Next move--it is time to get out of Maine I guess. Her fourth husband, with whom she stayed until she died in 1996, was Williams Cadwalader Bowie. Williams was blond with hazel eyes and 5 11’ according to his draft card. But she seems to have hit the jackpot with him, they had a house at 38 Cow Bay Road Martha’sVineyard, check it out. A property last sold for $10 million.

And Mrs. Williams G Bowie is immortalized as an extra in the movie Jaws, playing the role of an "Edgartown Hostess" in the dock scene.  

All right Ann, I guess you did okay for yourself. Certainly by my standards with that oceanfront property and a membership at the Edgartown Yacht Club and a house in Florida too.  Edgartown Hostess is not a bad title to end up with. I don’t think my father would have gotten you there.

But I think you may have wreaked a little havoc along the way, in my father’s life anyway. On the other hand, just like The Butterfly Effect, if you hadn’t married and divorced my father I wouldn’t exist.  So, thank you.


  1. Lovey Warren, Peter and my mother's cousin, mentioned to me briefly at a family funeral that "Poor Peter got in with a rich crowd, and could not keep up with it" or something like that. The context was his first marriage, and why he left Maine for the West. Being a Warren related even distantly to S.D.Warren Paper mill money was dangerous. Write me for more thoughts! Zandy Clark

  2. It's chichi. (just saying.) Great column. I'm a fan of interesting and complex families that take a lifetime to fathom.