Tall, soft-spoken and gracious, Joseph Foote is a unique addition to our Decatur House family.
Yet his courtly bearing belies a venturesome spirit, perhaps inherited from his mother, a school teacher with “a broken heart.” When the man she loved was lost in battle, Joe said, she felt a void that could only be filled by travel.
Joe was only six years old when she brought him and his older brother, Donald, on a years-long, cross-country adventure. They made stops along the way, where she would teach for a while and the boys attended school.
Their adventure began in Tucson, Ariz., and concluded in Newport Beach, Calif., where the trio of happy road warriors spent a memorable year.
“We lived in a yacht basin – it was bizarre, but very Californian,” Joe recalled with a grin. “We could see the Pacific Ocean from our classroom, and played volleyball on the beach.”
Upon returning to New England, Mrs. Foote bought a sizeable tract of lakeside property in the mountains of New Hampshire. Because she considered education a top priority, she enrolled her sons in private schools where they were challenged to excel.
“It established an educational trajectory for my brother and me,” Joe said. Donald went on to earn his PhD and become a scientist, while Joe got his degree from Harvard Law School..
Joe did not become a lawyer, however. “I pursued the law as an avocation, not a vocation,” he said.
Joe’s interests would lead him to a career in journalism, starting as a reporter for the Providence (R.I.) Journal. He was still a lowly cub reporter, in the spring of 1963, when the city editor approached him abruptly.
“Go get in your car and drive to the navy yard,” he snapped. “There’s a destroyer waiting for you – do it now!”
Joe had no gear, no camera — “not even a razor” — yet he did as ordered.
His job was to report back on the dramatic search-and-rescue operation for the U.S.S. Thresher, the storied submarine which had just sunk off the coast of Cape Cod. The doomed boat and its entire crew of 129 were lost.
Joe next volunteered for an assignment that brought him to Antarctica to cover the U.S. Navy’s storied Construction Battalion — known as the Seabees – as they constructed a research station at the brutally frigid South Pole.
Joe’s 5-year stint with the newspaper occasionally brought him to Washington, D.C., to report on issues of interest to Rhode Island. He found those assignments exciting, and said they “sowed the seed” for his eventual move to our nation’s capitol.
When a friend offered him a position with a high-profile, D.C.-based news magazine, Joe said he “grabbed it!”
During his six-year tenure with the magazine, Joe rubbed elbows with senators, interviewed presidential candidates, reported on the Supreme Court and held coveted White House credentials.
He eventually struck out on his own, as a free-lance communications consultant for many “V.I.P. clients,” a clientele that often included Cabinet members and large foundations.
He assembled a loyal team of young college graduates to assist him with projects, which could last for over a year and involve cross-country travel.
After spending most of his professional years in Washington, Joe returned to New England where he became reunited with Dorna Allen, described by Joe as “a school teacher par excellence.”
He knew Dorna from his early childhood days, when her family vacationed near his family’s lakeside home in the mountains. Their late-in-life reunion would become the most important and loving relationship of Joe’s life.
The couple settled in Sandwich, where they spent a decade together, the latter years darkened by Dorna’s battle with terminal cancer.
Joe described their time together as, “both romantic and tragic at the same time.”
Today, comfortably settled in at Decatur House, Joe is embarking upon a new chapter in his life. Aided by his assistant, Heather, he is busily working on an autobiographical book.
Joe relaxes by attending our live musical programs, and makes a point of complimenting those performers whose talent impressed him.
“I love the creative life and enjoy the company of creative people – that’s what enriches our lives,” he said. “I believe everybody has some creative element of their existence — no matter how grand or small.”
True to his creed, Joe has recently ventured into creative painting for the first time, attending our classes led by professional artists. His acrylic paintings are already earning high marks by the pros!