On Jan. 16, we lost one of the grand ladies of Rappahannock, Cornelia Kissam Dickinson O’Connor, affectionately known to her friends and family as “Sam.” She was 100 years old. Sam and her husband Waldron O’Connor were two of the mainstays of The Rappahannock Players during the 1980s, when I first joined our community theater as a set designer. It was the very early beginnings of what eventually became known as RAAC.
Sam was our fabulous head costume designer, while her charismatic husband Waldron acted in many of our productions. She was a stickler for authenticity in costuming our period pieces, and I was lucky to be dressed by her in the 80s when we performed the play “Peter Pan” in what is now The Theatre at Washington.
Every summer during the annual Fourth of July festival in Little Washington she outfitted several couples who would then stroll in period dress from different locations in our town, pretending that it was still the 1800s and meeting in front of the courthouse to perform a contra dance for the festival goers. Every detail, from our hats down to our shoes, had to look as it had been made back in olden times. Anyone who has taken on the task of dressing a large cast knows what a huge job it is. She loved every minute of it.
Sam also loved jazz, and loaned me several old jazz records that marked the beginning of my education of the music of Louis Prima. I am still performing his version of “Fever,” a less-known and gutsier version than Peggy Lee’s original.
An elegant and sophisticated hostess, Sam often invited her young theater friends over for tea and music in the afternoon. I was very honored to be included. Thank you, Sam, for all that you did for our shows and for our hearts.