Westwood Hills, Kansas—Dorothy McConnell Brown, age 97, of Westwood Hills, Kansas, passed away peacefully at home in the early afternoon of Sunday, March 21. She was born in Winfield, Kansas, to superintendent of schools William Wright McConnell and elementary school teacher (Minnie) Evelyn Purkaple McConnell.
A professional violinist and pianist, Dorothy began violin studies with Leoti Newland in Winfield. After graduating from Winfield High School in 1941, she attended Southwestern College there for three years. A memory that she liked to recount from that time was how during that wartime period of internment of American citizens of Japanese descent, her class elected a Japanese-American student as class president.
She traveled to Rochester, New York, to study violin with Jacques Gordon at the Eastman School of Music, completing her bachelor’s degree and earning her master’s in 1946. She was among a group of Leoti’s students who were at Eastman at the same time. Feeling homesick for their home on the Kansas prairie, they thought that then-dean of the music school, Howard Hanson, might also be missing his midwestern home of Wahoo, Nebraska, so they presented him with a bunch of sunflowers they had swiped from a local garden, a gift he cherished till the flowers were well past their prime.
Following graduation, Dorothy returned to Kansas for a couple of years, teaching violin at Friends University and appearing as soloist with the Wichita Symphony. There she also enjoyed teaching swimming and Red Cross lifesaving courses.
She then moved to New York City, supporting herself as a secretary at Riverside Church while continuing violin studies. At Riverside, she had the opportunity to play Vesper services with the church’s celebrated organist, Virgil Fox.
In 1951, she auditioned to tour with then little-known Robert Shaw and his chorale. It was here that she met her future husband of almost 70 years, Hugh Brown. Rehearsals began on January 2, and they were married on April 14, 1951, at Riverside Church.
In the fall of that year, the couple came to Kansas City with the intention of playing in the Kansas City Philharmonic for one year. (Despite their advanced ages, Mom and Dad can’t be labeled “antediluvian,” as they arrived in Kansas City after the infamous 1951 flood. . . .) Finding Kansas City to their liking, they have lived here ever since.
In 1958, Dorothy left the Philharmonic to pursue music as a commercial pianist, playing in popular Kansas City landmarks such as Putsch’s 210, and to raise the couple’s two children. This switch of musical gears enabled her to broaden her musical experience by studying with jazz pianist George Salisbury and jazz theory with John Elliott.
She returned to the Philharmonic in 1975 and played Starlight Theater during the summers, enjoying the variety of shows and personalities that came with them, with especially fond memories of personal encounters with Pearl Bailey and Margaret Hamilton (the original Wicked Witch of the West). Continuing with the orchestra when it re-formed in 1982 as the Kansas City Symphony, she retired in 1994.
Retirement freed Dorothy up for numerous pet projects and activities. A longtime member of Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, she continued on occasion playing music for church services and attended her beloved Thursday study group, whose members always made sure she had a ride when she could no longer drive. She also continued to help fill out the violin section for concerts of the Medical Arts Symphony. One of her greatest joys in retirement was volunteering at the Central Presbyterian Church food pantry, where she enjoyed both the clients and her coworkers. Gardening, and corresponding with an abundance of friends near and far also brought her joy.
Dorothy was preceded in death by her parents. She is survived by her husband, Hugh; children, Carole and Chuck (Eve); brother, Charles (Jean) McConnell; two granddaughters, Tara (Max) Hapner and Lauren Brown; two great-grandchildren, Isaac Oblinger and Evelyn Hapner; and two nephews, Mark and Steven McConnell.
It is Dorothy’s kindness and generosity that family, friends, and acquaintances remember most of all—welcoming new neighbors with a plate of cookies, brightening someone’s day with flowers, playing Christmas carols at the food pantry and at Hen House in Fairway—and surely this is the legacy for which she would most wish to be remembered.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be sent to the Second Presbyterian Church Fund, Wayside Waifs, or Great Plains SPCA.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date.