Notable Ridgefielders: Edwina Eustis Dick, contralto who cared
Edwina Eustis Dick was a singer who spent as much time helping others as she did at her career.
Born in New York in 1908, Edwina Eustis won a scholarship to Juilliard before even graduating from high school. She also studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and, after graduating, won the coveted Naumburg Award.
As a contralto, she sang leading roles with opera companies in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and other cities, and was a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and other leading orchestras, singing under Stokowski, Toscanini, Reiner, Iturbi, and Metropoulos. The New York Times once said she “possessed one of the most richly satisfying mezzo-soprano voices of our time.”
In the 1930s, she worked with the Musicians Emergency Aid to help create jobs for unemployed musicians. She also helped special education children in a New York City public school.
During World War II, Eustis performed more than 1,000 times during a 30-month USO tour to all five Atlantic and three Pacific theatres. She also sang the church services with chaplains and for the wounded in hospital wards. While in Italy with the Fifth Army, she sang as many as seven church services on a single Sunday.
Among her more unusual performances were singing before the Shah of Iran and King Farouk in anti-German propaganda concerts, nine Christmas shows with a G.I. choir in Shanghai, a concert for Mrs. Douglas MacArthur and her son in Tokyo, and Holy Week services on a troop ship returning from Japan.
After the war, she undertook a pioneering project at a Long Island hospital for the mentally ill, leading to doctors’ classifying music as “therapy.” She also trained young musicians in the new field of music therapy; an annual scholarship in her name is offered by the American Music Therapy Association.
Mrs. Dick and her husband, attorney Alexander C. Dick, were founding members of the American Symphony Orchestra, organized by Leopold Stokowski. Both locally and nationally, the Dicks were active in Republican politics.
In 1990, the Connecticut General Assembly honored “her long and successful career in music, her generous donation of time and talent to improving the lives of others, as well as her distinguished career in public service.”
“Edwina was also a fun person!” said a friend. “She loved to body surf in the ocean — yes! an opera singer that body surfs.”
She lived through the 1980s on Old Branchville Road, then moved to Heritage Village in Southbury where she died in 1997 at age 88.
A road built in 1999 on part of her former homestead was named Eustis Lane after her and her father, John, who bought the place in 1936. —Jack Sanders