A Life: Davis Dimock and Victoria Weber; ‘Everything they did was mindful’ 

Davis Dimock, photographed at his Bethel, Vt., property on Thursday, November 30, 2006, when he was chair of the town's planning board, died in a house fire with his partner Victoria Weber on December 13, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Davis Dimock, photographed at his Bethel, Vt., property on Thursday, November 30, 2006, when he was chair of the town's planning board, died in a house fire with his partner Victoria Weber on December 13, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley news file photograph — James M. Patterson

Victroria Weber and Davis Dimock in their Bethel, Vt., home in an undated photograph. (Courtesy Herb Ogden Jr.)

Victroria Weber and Davis Dimock in their Bethel, Vt., home in an undated photograph. (Courtesy Herb Ogden Jr.) Courtesy Herb Ogden Jr.

Victoria Weber and Davis Dimock in a 2018 photograph. (Courtesy Herb Ogden Jr.)

Victoria Weber and Davis Dimock in a 2018 photograph. (Courtesy Herb Ogden Jr.) Courtesy Herb Ogden Jr.

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-23-2023 9:20 PM

BETHEL — Victoria Weber and Davis Dimock first met when they were in college, he at Pomona and she at Pitzer, two small liberal arts colleges in Claremont, Calif., east of Los Angeles. This was in the 1960s.

After living in California and performing alternative service as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, Dimock came back to Vermont in the early 1970s. His parents, Marshall and Gladys Dimock, lived on an old farm in Bethel that they called Scrivelsby.

On Sept. 2, 1972, Weber and a friend were on their way to Canada for a vacation and decided to stop in Bethel to visit the Dimocks, not knowing Davis was there. It’s unclear how much they’d been in touch between their years in California and that late summer day in Vermont, but something fell into place. Rick Kendall, a friend of Davis’ who was staying at Scrivelsby, witnessed the encounter and described it in a tribute video to the couple:

“Even from a second-floor window, I could sense the electricity between them. They spoke briefly and then walked off into the woods behind the house. Of course, I couldn’t hear what was said. Nevertheless, it was one of the most romantic things I have ever seen. After a short time they returned to the car, Victoria took her bags out of the trunk, said goodbye to her friend, and essentially never left Scrivelsby again.”

Over the next 50 years, Weber and Dimock devoted themselves to a deeply rooted way of life. They took care of Dimock’s parents, lived sparely and groomed their acreage on either side of Christian Hill Road. They also made a mark in Bethel, leading the renovation of the Town Hall, serving on the Town Meeting Committee and, in Weber’s case, writing much of the Bethel Operator’s Manual, a guide to living in town.

They died Dec. 13, 2022, in a fire that gutted their home. The fire was ruled an accident. Weber was 75, Dimock, 76.

For some people, that’s a ripe old age. But Weber and Dimock were vigorous, buoyed by their work on the land.

“It meant everything to them,” longtime friend DeRoss Kellogg said of their attachment to their land. “Victoria, in particular, just loved the natural world.”

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“They were also our closest friends,” Kellogg said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.”

If there was a model for the life Dimock and Weber built together, it might be that of Dimock’s parents. Marshall Dimock was an economist and political scientist who served as assistant Secretary of Labor from 1938 to 1940 under Frances Perkins, an architect of the New Deal reforms enacted at the end of the Great Depression.

He married his second wife, Gladys Ogden, in 1940, the same year he bought an old 360-acre farm in Bethel. They called the place Scrivelsby after the name of his family’s ancestral home in Lincolnshire, England, founded in the 12th century by Sir John Dymoke, Marshall Dimock wrote in “The Center of My World,” an autobiography. The farm was the “center” of the title.

It was the center of Davis’ world, too. Both of his parents were writers, absorbed by their tasks. (Davis doesn’t merit a mention in the index of his father’s autobiography, which covers both life on the farm and overseas postings in Turkey, Russia, India and Japan.) His mother also was a writer, and in her own book about life on the farm, she mentioned how she would attach a bell to Davis, so she could hear where he was, and send him outdoors with the dogs, so when she called them back in, Davis would toddle after them, Julie Fago, a friend and neighbor of the couple, said.

An adopted child, and the youngest, Davis often was sent to boarding schools while his father worked abroad. Even in his teens, Davis exhibited some of the independence that would make life in Vermont a natural fit. He refused to attend Phillips Andover Academy, the prestigious Massachusetts boarding school, because he would have to repeat his freshman year.

“I make lots of decisions based on sort of peripheral things or on things that just wouldn’t fit in for me,” he told a friend, Richard Whittaker, in an interview published in 2019.

His father had grown up in California and attended Pomona, and Davis went there, too, though he’d also gotten into Yale. He graduated in 1967 with a degree in English. He worked for Goodwill and interviewed San Francisco hippies for a government research project.

His family’s resources meant he didn’t have to work so, as he told Whittaker, he decided to retire. When he came to Vermont, he did manual labor at the farm, including cutting all of the firewood to heat the house, caring for livestock and helping nearby farmers.

“He told me he never expected to be in Vermont,” John Fago, Julie’s husband and a longtime friend of Dimock and Weber, said. Dimock saw himself living in a rent-controlled apartment on New York’s Upper West Side and haunting the city’s screenings of classic films, Fago said.

Of Victoria’s early years, less is known. Her obituary did not include her birthplace or her parents’ names, and people who knew her well gave varying accounts of her closeness to her parents. Weber has a sister, from whom she was long estranged, her friends said.

“She did not talk much about her family of origin,” Jerry Ward, Dimock’s second cousin, said in an interview.

Sandy Levesque, a longtime friend and fellow gardener, said she and Weber spent a lot of car time visiting gardens each summer and got to know each others’ history.

“I’m not comfortable talking about that,” she said of Weber’s family.

Kellogg said he thought Weber had grown up in the Brattleboro, Vt., area and that her father had been a World War II fighter pilot. She graduated in 1965 from Abbot Academy, a girls boarding school eventually absorbed by neighboring Phillips Andover. After college, she lived in West Brattleboro for a time, homesteading with the artist Juan Hamilton.

She earned a master’s degree in library science and worked in the library at Vermont Law School, then still a fledgling institution. She helped build the collection there, particularly in environmental law.

“My favorite position was Environmental Reference Librarian, which allowed me to create a special collection in environmental law and train people to access environmental information in the many disciplines and formats it resides in,” Weber wrote in a bio for her Abbot Academy class’ 50th reunion.

She worked at the law school for 27 years, retiring in the early 2000s. While it satisfied her intellect, it also gave her a measure of independence.

As Dimock’s parents aged, Weber was essential to caring for them. She and Davis lived in a small house across the road from the main house.

“She was really the glue that held everything together up here,” Julie Fago said.

Gladys, who was known as “Pen,” for her writing career, died in 1989, and Marshall in 1991.

Thereafter, the land was their biggest concern. Gifts of land and some eminent domain — it lies alongside Interstate 89 — had trimmed the size of the farm down to around 250 acres. The open land continued to be used for agriculture, including hay and pasture, and for Weber’s gardens.

Davis’ use of the land was more personal and arcane. He continued producing huge quantities of firewood. He mowed the lawn with a push-type reel mower, part of his fitness regimen, which also included lifting weights.

But he also called himself an “art-laborer.” He made art out of found materials, such as old wagon wheels found on the property, and out of stones unearthed or piles of sticks and other debris. But he didn’t like to think of himself as an artist.

“It seems pretentious to think of myself as an artist,” he told Whittaker. “I think of artists as people who are going through the angst of creating stuff, and then the angst of getting a gallery to show the stuff, or sell the stuff. And I don’t like capitalism. It’s depressing. By just creating something on the land, my payment, my pleasure, is when other people stop and look at it.”

This independent way of living used to be more common in Vermont and New Hampshire. It has the spirit of subsistence farming. In Dimock’s case, he had a living from his family and so could say no to things that didn’t interest him. He made no bones about it.

“I’ve never had a job, per se,” he said in the 2019 interview. “So that’s allowed me to feel free. I’m not tied into the constricts of making a living.”

There were periods when Dimock seldom left home at all. He told John Fago that he left once a year to go get his teeth cleaned. Other friends noted that he helped people off the farm with some regularity. But living in a farmhouse heated only with wood, and producing hot water with a wood cookstove, gives off a particular aura.

“He had this reputation, and some of this was his own image of himself, as a hermit,” Ward said. But he and Weber both read and kept up with what was going on in the world and had little patience for people who were uninformed. And their participation in town government was deliberate and designed to have an influence, including a rewrite of the town plan, the Town Hall restoration and other projects.

“Everything they did was mindful,” Ward said. “That was the essence of their being.” Their aim was to live gently on their land, to improve it, themselves and their community.

They also watched classic films, often one a night, Ward said. A bit of the Upper West Side in Bethel.

While Dimock made art, Weber beautified the land with plants, mostly perennials and medicinal herbs. She was a longtime member of the Hardy Plant Club of Northern Vermont, and was generous with her garden, giving plants away to club members.

“Medicinal herbs are my present passion — I love the fact that they have had relationships with people for hundreds, even thousands of years,” Weber wrote in her 2015 bio. “I’m especially drawn to weeds and other humble plants with nourishing, health-preserving qualities.” She added that she’d been making herbal medicines for about 20 years at that point.

She also did battle each year with invasive plants, particularly wild chervil, which overtakes Vermont roadsides in the spring.

In just the past couple of years, Weber and Dimock had undertaken to conserve their land, which includes a 25-acre tract of old growth forest, through the Vermont Land Trust. All but a 4- or 5-acre home site is conserved, and friends and family hope that might mean that if a new home is built on the land, it might leave the old home site alone. The removal of the house, contracted by the land trust earlier this year, took people by surprise, and those close to Davis and Weber are keeping a close eye on what happens next.

A visitor to their land today would see abundant evidence of their care and creativity. Dimock’s art works, some of them massive, others in delicate equipoise, still line the roadway, and Weber’s garden is thick with waving, blossoming perennials. It isn’t hard to see why they’d spent most of their lives there.

“Really, why would you want to leave it?” Levesque, a fellow Bethel resident, said. Between them, they had created beautiful soil, she said.

At a June 3 memorial, Levesque talked about the last time she’d seen Weber, last September, which would have marked 50 years since Weber came to Vermont for good.

“I had a bumper crop of St. John’s wort,” a medicinal plant, and she’d offered it to Weber. “She arrived, and she was so fit-looking.” She always brought a gift, and this time it was a bouquet of blue, white and yellow flowers.

They sat and talked in the garden for and hour and a half, or two hours, as was their habit, then Weber got up to make her cuttings.

“All of a sudden, I heard her chanting,” Levesque said. Weber was leaning over the plants and chanting her gratitude for them before taking out her shears.

“That was vintage Victoria,” she said.

She and Dimock were married in 2010, a formality that didn’t seem important until they were in their 60s. In an email to Rick Kendall, giving him the news, Weber wrote: “So think back to that day, Sept. 2, 1972, when I arrived at Scrivelsby when you and Davis were there. A long road, spent right here, seeping into one spot on Earth.”

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.