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Arlington neighbors mourn a ‘fixture’ killed in accident

William Dotson with his late wife Charlotte. (Family handout)

ARLINGTON — At Christmas, he serenaded patrons of Maida Pharmacy and the library on Massachusetts Avenue with carols performed on a harmonica said to date to World War II.

During snowstorms, he shoveled out a fire hydrant and Postal Service relay box outside his house on Henderson Street — a struggle for someone who was 91 years old.

And whenever he wanted to revisit his career as a typewriter repairman at Harvard University, William Dotson took a short walk to Cambridge Typewriter Co., telling the owner: “It does my heart good to come in and see this place.”

“He was a fixture in the neighborhood,” Dotson’s letter carrier, George McCarthy, said Tuesday. “Everybody in the neighborhood knew him.”


McCarthy was among the last people to see Dotson on Monday before he was fatally injured while crossing Massachusetts Avenue near Varnum Street about 11 a.m.

Police said he was struck by a Honda Civic driven by a 60-year-old Woburn woman. No charges have been filed and investigators have not publicly named the driver.

Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan said officers have surveillance video of the crash.

Dotson played the harmonica inside Maida Pharmacy on Mass. Ave at Christmas. Dina Breger

“We will be analyzing that as a component of our investigation,” he said.

Before his morning routine took a tragic turn, Dotson picked up some empty trash barrels that had blown over, made his daily visit to Maida Pharmacy, and picked up a newspaper outside the Arlington Restaurant & Diner, McCarthy said.

From there, Dotson crossed Varnum Street and headed onto Mass. Ave., where McCarthy said he saw the crash unfold from inside his parked US Postal Service truck.

“It just caught my eye. And I [saw] the car coming, and I was actually on the phone talking to someone and I said, ‘My God! He’s going to get hit,’ ” McCarthy said. “It was . . . horrifying, horrifying.”


One of Dotson’s daughters, Ellen Serino, said she was about to call him when a police officer telephoned and told her there had been a crash involving a pedestrian.

“I knew my dad had to be on the receiving end because he hasn’t driven in over a year,” said Serino, who lives in Newton.

Serino said the officer told her Dotson suffered “serious trauma” and was being taken to Massachusetts General Hospital.

For another daughter, Sheila Keene, Dotson’s death was the second blow in a matter of days. Her husband, James, died last week of pancreatic cancer, relatives said.

Keene said after her husband died, Dotson assured her she had the strength to carry on. She saved a voice-mail message her father left for her last week.

“He cared about everybody,” said Keene, who lives in Brockton. “He felt it was his duty, his responsibility to interact with people.”

Another daughter, Leslie Dotson, said her father was an exemplar of “The Greatest Generation.”

“It’s kind of ironic. Someone who went to World War II managed to get hit by a car three blocks from his house,” she said. “We’ve all got to go, but that was really not the way I expected to have it happen. He was such a good person.”

Tributes to Dotson’s goodness were offered by many around his East Arlington home, where mourners left flowers at the front door. The father of four and widower had lived there for decades.

One neighbor, Kayleigh Shoen, recalled how Dotson never waited for the snow to stop before shoveling.


“He seemed to really take a lot of pride in his house,” she said. “Everyone would have to hurry to catch up” with the neighborhood nonagenarian.

At Maida Pharmacy, Maria Maida said she sometimes worried about Dotson venturing out in bad weather, walking with a cane as he did his daily errands.

“Rain, snow, sleet he was out with his little cart,” she said. “During the snowstorms I’d see him walking. . . . He didn’t care.”

Neighbors left flowers in tribute to “a kind and giving man” at the Henderson Street, Arlington, home of William Dotson, where the 91-year-old had lived for decades before being struck by a car while he was walking across Massachusetts Avenue on Monday.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

At the Edith M. Fox Branch Library, where he entertained with his harmonica, Dotson delivered the Metro newspaper to the circulation desk every day with the greeting: “Good morning. Here’s the Metro.”

“He’s just so kind and giving,” said Emily Canniff, the branch librarian. “It’s definitely a big loss.”

He recently stopped by at Cambridge Typewriter to give owner Tom Furrier his copy of “Lucky You,” by Carl Hiaasen.

“He loved that I was still doing’’ typewriter repair, Furrier said. “That always made me feel good.”

McCarthy, the letter carrier, said he has attended a few wakes for postal customers during his 35-year career and plans to do the same for Dotson.

“I don’t want my last memory of him to be him laying in the street like that,” he said.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.