Quintessential people

Dyllis and Bill Braithwaite: The Elegant Life of Love


by David Rutter | Photograph by thomas balsamo

This, then, is what love looks like after 65 years of marriage, with three children now middle-aged, professional achievement by both, plus rich, redolent lives enriched by their community.

This is what the gentle face of an 88-year-old wife looks like when she professes her love for her 87-year-old husband.

But chronological age is only math. Pay no attention to it, because years do not define who they are. They are still the Depression-era Connecticut farm kids who met and fell in love at the University of Connecticut 67 years ago.

But it was just yesterday, wasn’t it? They are the same kids now, though their grandchildren are middle-aged.

So is love so difficult to nurture for 65 years? “Of course not,’’ Dyllis turns to answer, with sparkles dancing in her eyes. “It’s the easiest thing in the world.”

They are both in deep, earnest love with their best friend—she a published maven of fabric artistry, glorious color and elegant clothes of her own design and creation. And he the legal eagle whose mastery in the arcane science of zoning laws has preserved the essence of Barrington and its environment.

If you want to know who Barrington is and why, look at them.

This is what love looks like when Dyllis and Bill Braithwaite sit to explain their lives and who they are. They are not frail, wispy souls. They have lived smart, focused, productive existences, and they have always given more than they took.

It’s the 4-H way. They grew up devoted to the inspirational, rural organization and its positive view of life. It has become their view of life, too. They are balanced. They actually have the modeled 4-H pledge of their childhood. “I pledge: My Head to clearer thinking, My Heart to greater loyalty, My Hands to larger service, and My Health to better living, For my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

“When I was a kid on the poultry farm, our family never went on a vacation, and the only vacation I went on was one week at 4-H camp,” Bill recalls.

Camp life for 4-H-ers is filled with friendship, high spirits, and shared singing at meals. The 4-H songbook is a massive tome of exuberance and faith. “We ended every meal with a specific song,” he said, “and it’s been meaningful in my life. It ends with ‘accept our gratitude in serving others, Lord, and may we repay our debt of love to thee.’”

The Braithwaites have dispensed that gratitude with 60 years in Barrington’s United Methodist Church, a span that overlaps Bill’s role in Family Services and its community outreach.

Dyllis’ unofficial ministry was Finn’s Fabrics by Dyllis. The emporium of spectacular fabrics was famous among Chicagoans from her nearly four decades of ownership on North Cook Street. It spawned two books of photos over the past two years featuring Dyllis wearing her own colorful fashion creations.

She was doubtful initially at first that her books should feature her as the sole model. But her life is a constant nudge. The shop and fabrics she transformed were her and no one else.

She still cannot go to public events in the seven years since she closed the business without a stranger approaching her about her amazing fashions. “I have to be careful how I dress all the time,” she says with a laugh.

As for Bill, if you admire the serene quality of life exemplified in Barrington’s neighborhoods, he is likely more responsible for it than any other person. He’s been the attorney of record for almost all the local villages.

He’s the King of Zoning Laws and shaped how most of the land within 20 miles of downtown Barrington has been developed. He rushed to the courthouse to file South Barrington’s incorporation papers in 1959, elbowing his way past a competitor literally at the finish line. That’s not merely a rhetorical flourish.

“I think most of the zoning issues in the area are settled, and the best way to fend off zoning problems is good development. That’s what has happened here,” Bill says.

If you knew them well—either as independent players in life or as permanently sealed partners—you would know them as the most elegant people you had ever met. They laugh at that idea, though, because elegant people often don’t see that in themselves.

He stopped Gov. Otto Kerner’s plans for a nuclear accelerator in South Barrington; she was been a nationally known fashionista before the word even existed, and she’s a dedicated vegetable farmer at the village agricultural plot. “I am the Queen of Kale,” she beams and then rattled off various recipes that almost made the dreadful vegetable seem like a good idea.

Her store was far more than a store. It was a cathedral. “I really ministered to people,” she said. “Many people came into my store just to get a lift because my store was so beautiful with the displays and the beautiful fabrics. And lots of times they would tell me their sad stories and I would listen.”

He is a still-practicing attorney.

It began in 1949 with two Connecticut farm kids. She was Dyllis Schlosser then, daughter of a dairy farmer in New Hartford. “Cows and pigs and everything,” she says. He was the son of English immigrant poultry farmers in Putnam, Conn.

They met in 4-H at the university. “It was all social in college, and the first time I saw him in 1949, he was speaking from a podium,” she says. “I was impressed. Later on, I was even more impressed that he was impressed with me.”

“I was pinned to someone else at the time,” he laughs. “Our relationship evolved.”

But he was the 4-H president at UConn’s rural base in Storrs. She was the secretary. They were Ping Pong buddies. And then they fell in love.

She earned a decree in home economics education, and he earned his law degree at Columbia. Then came a teaching fellowship assignment for him at Northwestern University. They were heading back to Connecticut a year later when the idea struck both of them to stay.

On the first scouting trip to Barrington in 1956, he toured three homes and picked one he liked. He’d never been to Barrington, and didn’t exactly know where it was. But he was making $425 a month at a Chicago law firm. The time seemed right to settle down.

She picked the same house a day later. They moved into 206 W. Russell Street on April 2, 1956. Their children Nancy (now 62), Gordon (60), and Anne (55) all grew up and produced five grandchildren, four of whom are adults now. Dyllis ran Finn’s for three years, and then bought it in 1972. She closed the shop in 2008 because of chronic back pain.

As for now? “We swim and walk every day. It’s important to keep moving,” she says.

They’ll celebrate their 65th anniversary on July 25. If you miss it, don’t worry. “We’re planning on a hundred,” she says.

Life is not so hard; 4-H taught them now to balance the universe with taste and elegance. Mostly, it’s just a question of love.

And, as Dyllis and Bill Braithwaite found, being in love is the easiest thing in the world.

The conversation stood still for an instant. They had answered a hundred questions, shared old memories, and laughed with each other. But time stood transfixed for an infinite second. In that eternally held breath, she reached across the small gap as they sat side by side and put her hands on his.

“I just wanted everyone to know how much I admire him,” Dyllis said, her eyes fixed on Bill. He nodded back at her eyes that filled with tiny teardrops. He smiled, and his hand covered hers as gently as a whisper. They did not move. They did not breathe. It was their private second.

Here are some words that others shared about dyllis and bill Braithwaite.

Janet Agnoletti, Friend, BACOG Executive Director

I had known Bill Braithwaite from his respected reputation in municipal law and his involvement in community organizations, but it wasn’t until his first call to me when I started working at BACOG that I began to know first-hand the generous and thoughtful man that he is. Whenever I started a new program or a controversial development project fell in my lap, my phone rang—and it was Bill offering to help. His help never came with a price tag.

Bill has always supported BACOG’s mission and so he supported me. For the past 15 years, we have continued our phone calls about some of the most important, complex issues before this region. Bill and I worked together to draft bills for State legislation, address mandates on affordable housing, and strategize on groundwater protection policies. Bill has contributed behind the scenes at BACOG for many years, where his keen mind and insights were always highly valued. In our relationship, I could never say thank you enough, and in his modest way, Bill never accepted there was a need for thanks.

I have enjoyed getting to know Dyllis through Bill. When Dyllis and I talk, I feel her zest for all things beautiful, colorful, and unique. She is not only interesting, but interested, and she draws people to her with a subtle spiritedness. I think Bill and Dyllis are a wonderful couple who complement each other in the very best ways.

Larry Grelle, Friend

My wife, Cheryl, and I have known Dyllis and Bill Braithwaite as cherished friends for over 40 years.Bill and I were law partners for most, if not all of that time, during which I witnessed a man of unquestionable integrity as well as unbelievable service to and compassion for others (whether clients or not).Bill is such a “giant” of a local citizen, it is impossible to place word limits on his contributions to our local communities.

Bill, as many people know, was the village attorney for Barrington and other nearby communities.Bill was instrumental in the incorporation of the Village of South Barrington with Bill Rose and, most recently, the incorporation of Campton Hills, which has the largest land area of any village in the State of Illinois.Bill was also a key participant in Barrington’s Cook Street Plaza development. Bill inspired me to be an “early riser” as I would often arrive at our Hough and Main St. office by 6:30 a.m. only to find that Bill and his faithful dog were already there with the door locked, so the dog would not unexpectedly frighten me as I came in the office door.

Bill was a “first for everything” person.He was one of the first to have a mobile phone—one of the old clunkers made by Motorola that weighed about five pounds and was eight inches long and three inches thick. He would carry it in his briefcase as we would ride the CNW train to our Chicago office. It was hysterical as the phone would ring and the adjacent passengers would all look around wondering what in the world that was, when Bill said “Hello.”

Bill and Dyllis loved their farm in Dodgeville, Wis., and spent many weekends there.

Anne and Bob Lee, Friends

We are friends and fans of Bill and Dyllis. We have known this dynamic duo for the past decade or so, but their notoriety preceded our first encounter. We knew of Bill for his having been BADC’s “Citizen of the Year” in 1997, for his founding of Family Services of Barrington, for his dedicated support of so many not-for-profits, and for serving as our Village attorney. And Dyllis as the distinguished owner of Barrington’s local fabric store, Finn’s Fabrics.

Where did we meet? In the community garden plots at Ron Beese Park, where we each are able to share our passion for gardening. It is a joy to see them as a couple tilling, planting, weeding, and harvesting their summer bounty. We have had the pleasure of enjoying homemade soups and stews prepared by Dyllis. We have nicknamed her the “Queen of Kale.”

Even in the garden, Dyllis is a lady of fashion with her wide brim hats and flowing garments of color. Yes, in the garden, or wherever Dyllis is seen, people would say, “I love what you are wearing!” Little did we know the extent of her wardrobe and her creativity until she asked us to stop by her home one day to help photograph a few ensembles that she had laid out for a book in the making. Dyllis gracefully modeled one after another of her “timeless, one of a kind, classic wearable art creations.” The combinations of color, texture, and creativity are amazing. Dyllis’ passion to have her life’s work documented and shared as an octogenarian encourages us all to share more and do more as we get older.

Yes, Bill and Dyllis are mentors to us all, as to how to age with dignity and distinction. Throughout their 64 years of marriage, they have lived healthy lives in mind, body, and spirit. They are very faith–full, grateful, straight-forward and honest, very dedicated to family—a devoted couple who are comfortably confident, interested and interesting, and a priceless treasure to know and love.

Susan McConnell, Friend

As a young woman, I shopped in Finn’s Fabrics for my sewing projects. Little babies in tow, I was intimidated by the all-knowing Dyllis Braithwaite.

Twenty-five years later, I would become one of the photographers on her team, helping to create her books, “Oh! I Love What You’re Wearing!” (Volumes I and II). My dear friend, Bob Lee, encouraged me to take on this project in spite of my, “I just can’t fit one more thing in” speech. He told me that this would be good for me.

Escorting Dyllis around Barrington and photographing her in the elegant outfits that she designed and sewed herself, I immediately identified with her, was in awe of her, and I now count her as one of my best friends. There is hardly a day that goes by that we don’t visit or, in the least, talk on the phone. I’m proud of myself for being open to having a friend who is older than me, and I am learning a wealth of lifetime knowledge as a result of our friendship.

This past summer I took a community garden plot by Dyllis and we spent countless hours planting, harvesting, and learning. We worked together in her garden and in mine, never separately. We wore bee-keeper hats to elude the mosquitoes. I wish I had a photograph of that. She taught me how to entice blue birds to my garden, how to infuse kale in every recipe, how to sow beets to fill the summer, and how to cultivate zinnias, zinnias, and more zinnias. She also taught me how to better tend to my marriage, and my children,n and myself. Dyllis does everything in her life creatively, organically, and from the heart. She is the perfect role model. She is a friend and a mother all wrapped up in one, and I thank God that I found her. (And I thank Bob Lee, too.)

Jan and Bruce Sauer, Friends

We have been friends with Bill and Dyllis for more than 30 years. Jan first met Bill when we lived in Arlington Heights, and our two churches were working together to provide coats and gloves for people through the Marcy Newberry Foundation.

The Sauers and Braithwaites have been church members together, have worked in community organizations, enjoyed family times and talents, quiet dinners, and recognized accomplishment events. The Braithwaite’s have been our most trusted mentors and loving friends. Our two sons would describe them as grandparents, as teachers, as friends, and advisers. It is impossible for us to describe all that we have shared or all that we anticipate sharing with Bill and Dyllis. They will always be family and the best of life’s gifts to us.

Bill is wise and insightful. His incredible mind couples with the kindest soul to offer well-reasoned advice. In addition, that twinkle in his eye lets you know that he is delighted to be with you and completely vested in your conversation. Bill is the epitome of a gentleman.

Dyllis is forthright and elegant. She is confident in her ideas and at ease sharing them. Her incredible creativity is always visible in self-created fashions. It is impossible to be out with Dyllis without seeing someone stop her to ask where she got her ensemble. Dyllis has always been the definition of an independent woman.

We love the Braithwaites and will always be grateful for having them in our lives.

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David Rutter is a regular contributor to Quintessential Barrington.

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Publisher’s Note: Quintessential People™ is a heartfelt collaboration between our publication and portrait artist Thomas Balsamo. Our goal is to share exceptional images and words that ring true about some of the finest, most inspiring people in our community. For more information, contact QB at publisher@qbarrington.com, or Thomas Balsamo (Portraits By Thomas) at 847-381-7710, or visit www.portraitsbythomas.com.