In Memoriam: Gratia Houghton Rinehart Montgomery


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death February 20, 2005 of Honorary Trustee and Honorary Member Gratia Houghton Rinehart Montgomery at her home in South Dartmouth, MA. She was 77.

Gratia "Topsy" Montgomery was affiliated with the Institution for nearly four decades and was a longtime friend and generous supporter. Interested in the oceans from childhood, she began contributing to Institution research and education programs in 1966 through the Tai-Ping Foundation, which she founded and served as chair. Through the years she supported a number of WHOI education programs, and helped dozens of summer student fellows, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows launch their oceanographic careers. In 1970 she met George Grice of WHOI during an Antarctic cruise and the two became friends. They kept in contact, often fishing off the dock and in local waters, and in the 1990s Topsy Montgomery became more involved with the Institution. A Life Associate since 1966, she was elected a Member of the Corporation in 1996 and a Trustee in 1997. In 1998 she was elected an Honorary Trustee and Honorary Member. At the time of her death she was serving on the Ships Committee.

Topsy Montgomery visited the Institution often, maintaining her interest in both research and education. In 1996, she gave $5 million to endow coastal research at WHOI, a gift acknowledged with the dedication of the Coastal Research Center in her name. Her commitment to coastal research, both shore-based and sea-going, made it possible for the Institution to begin construction of a new coastal research vessel and to expand its coastal research activities. In 1997 she sailed aboard the research vessel Atlantis during its maiden voyage from Pascagoula, MS, to Woods Hole. Her many contributions to WHOI were recognized in January 2001, when she was presented the Institution's Cecil H. Green Award, named for Texas Instruments' founder and philanthropist Cecil H. Green. The award is given for outstanding contributions to oceanographic research at the Institution.

"Topsy has been passionate about the oceans all her life. As a child she explored the beachfront and tidal pools of her native South Dartmouth and read voraciously about the sea," WHOI President and Director Bob Gagosian said in presenting the Green award. "Her curiosity about all things related to the oceans appears to be inexhaustible, and she has involved herself in fascinating projects and expeditions throughout her life, among them Operation Tektite, the Great Barrier Reef's Floating Symposium, the Explorers Club, and one of the first voyages to Antarctica. She is an explorer, sailor, diver, angler and, above all, a life-long student of the sea. Her life-long desire 'to pass along the love of science and nature to future generations' represents a commitment to oceanography which will be felt for many, many years to come."

Describing herself as a "catalyst of sorts", Topsy Montgomery's recent gift of $5 million established the Access to the Sea program. "I love kick-starting a project - like the Rinehart Initiative for Access to the Sea - and watching it take off," she said.

Gratia Houghton Rinehart Montgomery was born in 1927, the granddaughter of the late mystery writer, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and daughter of the late Alan G. Rinehart, former editor and producer of Paramount Pictures. Her husband, Gordon E. Montgomery, a retired executive of the Curtis Publishing Company, died in a plane crash in Virginia in 2000.

A private person who preferred to stay out of the limelight and quietly help organizations and individuals, she served on the Board of Directors of the Media Research Center. She was a corporate member of the Explorers Club, chair and first recording secretary of the International Women's Fishing Association (part of the International Game Fishing Association), and a trustee of St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford, MA. She was a longtime supporter of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Dartmouth National Resources Trust, Spectator Magazine, the Navy League of the U.S. and many other local and regional organizations.

Survivors include her son, Peter J.D. Allatt, and his wife, Nancy, of Greenwich, CT.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, March 19, 2005, at 11 a.m. at Grace Episcopal Church on County Street in New Bedford. A reception will follow at the Wamsutta Club across the street.


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Gratia  Topsy Montgomery

Gratia "Topsy" Montgomery holding the Cecil H. Green Award. WHOI President and Director Bob Gagosian is at left. (Photo by Tim Silva)

Gratia Topsy Montgomery

Topsy Montgomery relaxing aboard the research vessel Atlantis during its maiden voyage in 1997. (Photo by Shelley Dawicki)