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Dwight Strong, Watch and Ward Society leader, dies

Dwight Spaulding Strong, the last director of the New England Watch and Ward Society, a puritanical organization formed in Boston in the 19th century to ban books, fight pornography, and ''watch and ward off evildoers," has died.

Mr. Strong, 98, a self-described country boy from Amherst who was executive secretary of the Watch and Ward Society from 1948 until 1950 and remained in the position from 1950 to 1967 after the organization's name was changed to the New England Citizens Crime Commission, died Tuesday in his home in the South End.

''He was an ebullient fellow who always thought the best of people and did all he could to make the world a better place," his friend Philip Lindsay of Dorchester said yesterday.

In the Watch and Ward Society's heyday, the Boston Public Library kept books the society considered objectionable in a locked room, the Museum of Fine Arts kept parts of its Asian collection behind closed doors, and the label ''banned in Boston" became a selling point for salacious books from New York to San Francisco.

The Watch and Ward Society was founded in May 1878, when a group of Bostonians, including Dr. Phillips Brooks, rector of Trinity Church, and the Rev. Edward Everett Hale, author of the short story ''The Man Without a Country," met at the Park Street Church to consider newspaper reports that New York City was being inundated by pornography distributed by underworld figures from Boston.

When Mr. Strong came aboard in 1948, he focused the organization's activities on gambling. He drew national publicity in 1962 when his research aided CBS News in making the nationally broadcast documentary ''Biography of a Bookie Joint," which showed Boston policemen in uniform entering and leaving a Back Bay key shop were bets were being placed.

Mr. Strong, who had the shop under surveillance from an apartment across the street, said his calls to the police went unheeded, so he brought his research to CBS. The documentary led to a grand jury investigation and a shake-up at the Boston Police Department, including the resignation of Commissioner Leo Sullivan.

The documentary was not aired in Boston for two years because of pending criminal prosecutions, but it set off reverberations felt around the country. ''Not since the British imposed a tax on tea have Bostonians been so aroused," according to a Miami newspaper.

The year after ''Biography of a Bookie Joint" aired, the Boston Rotary Club saluted Mr. Strong for his efforts and gave him a tie clip fashioned from a gold-plated key to the Swartz Key Shop, the storefront featured in the documentary.

''He wore it for the rest of his life," said his daughter, Avis Strong Parke of Centerville.

Mr. Strong, who was 6 foot 4, described himself as ''a country boy who grew up on a farm," in a story published in the Globe in 1961.

The son of a baker, he delivered milk and newspapers to augment the family's income and helped care for horses, pigs, and chickens.

He graduated from Springfield College in 1930. ''To get through college I did anything I could to make a half a buck," he said in the article. ''I beat rugs, ran errands, and chauffeured one afternoon a week for an elderly lady.

''Jobs were hard to get in Depression days, " he said, ''so I left the rural areas and came down to the big city [Boston] to earn a livelihood."

He was director of activities at the Hyde Park branch of the YMCA and executive director of the Dorchester Settlement House in Fields Corner before becoming administrator of the Watch and Ward Society. From 1968 until 1986, Mr. Strong and his wife owned and operated Stronghold Real Estate Co. in Boston.

''He was a people person who never drank, smoked, or gambled," his daughter said. ''He liked to sit on the front steps of his home and greet the neighbors."

In addition to his daughter, he leaves his wife, Eleanoretta (Broadhurst); two sons, Donald of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and Edward of Orlando, Fla.; 11 grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Monday at 11 a.m. in First Parish Church in Dorchester.

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