Nancy Childress of Gilmanton, daughter of famed illustrator Robert Childress, whose Dick and Jane books helped define a generation, has defied being defined herself, reinventing herself throughout her life. She is a woman who likes to make her own—and others’—ideas come true.
As a child, Childress, who grew up on the Connecticut shore, was often used as the model for “Sally” with her older sister serving as “Jane” and a neighborhood friend was used to represent “Dick” in her father’s books. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Plymouth State College in 1979 and taught at the elementary school and high school levels for years.
Childress is a creator and entrepreneur at heart. In the early 1990s, when her kids were young, she developed Mom’s Hideaway, a coverall for nursing mothers manufactured in Tamworth for a short time, and in 1992, she published the Little Bumpkins series, a collection of illustrated children’s books.
When Childress decided to go to law school at age 43, she chose Franklin Pierce School of Law as it was one of the top Intellectual Property law schools in the country. She earned a J.D. in 2003, becoming a family mediator and eventually an adjunct professor at NHTI. She says her studies also provided her with the legal background she needed to help protect her father’s artwork and to help others with patent and intellectual property law issues.
“A lot of people have great ideas, but they don’t know how to make it a reality,” Childress says. “I know how to write apatent application.”
While she is now retired, Childress is hardly slowing down. She is now focused on her latest invention, the Grease Gripper—essentially a nonslip sleeve for cans of nonstick cooking sprays that can get slippery and hard to hold, she says. Childress hopes the product will be placed next to spray bottles at major chain supermarkets and has seen some interest from Market Basket over the last several months.
The Grease Gripper isn’t her only endeavor. In May, Childress published “From the Red Hills to the White Mountains.” The book chronicles her father’s life, including the ways he influenced America’s products, contributed to WWII’s victory gardens through his agricultural illustrations for Grange League Federation (later to become Agway), and illustrated and made text changes to the “Sally, Dick and Jane” reading books for children. Last month Childress donated her father’s Dick and Jane original sketch books to the Norman Rockwell Museum.