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Remembering Rosemary Willson: A Creative Spirit and Friend

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One of Juilliard’s most generous benefactors, Rosemary Willson, passed away at her home in Los Angeles on January 25. Rosemary, who was 88, was a ray of sunshine and a person of special dignity in my world. Her generosity of spirit brought her to help develop programs throughout the country in the fields of medicine, education, and the performing arts. Her support of innovative approaches in these areas touched thousands of people in a profoundly positive way.

Rosemary Wilson and Polisi
(Photo by Jon Roemer)

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In the late-1950s Rosemary moved from her childhood home in Michigan to Los Angeles, where she worked for many years in the entertainment industry. She married Juilliard alumnus Meredith Willson on Valentine’s Day in 1968 and was his constant companion until his death in 1984. After Mr. Willson’s death, Rosemary dedicated herself to the preservation of his musical and stage works, including The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Her generosity to Juilliard was literally transformative for the School through the realization of Juilliard’s first-ever residence hall, which now allows young artists from around the world to live in secure, convenient, and affordable housing for the first time in the School’s history. Most recently, the dedication of the Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater at Juilliard in October 2009 permits our students in dance, drama, and music to work with the most advanced technological programs, bringing live performers together with new advances in technology to create innovative ways of experiencing the performing arts. It was our great pleasure to have Rosemary and her friends with us at that time, during her last visit to New York City.

But it was Rosemary’s humanity, creative spirit, and empathy for others that shone through when you were in her presence. Her love and dedication to her husband Meredith and his legacy were always elements of a conversation with her. Yet, after his death, Rosemary did not take the easy path in shepherding the resources generated by Meredith’s work, but rather, reached out to people and organizations to enlarge upon the accomplishments of her beloved husband. She also enhanced her generosity and his legacy through her deep humanity and sensitivity to the needs of others. 

The honor of knowing Rosemary is a blessing I will always cherish. Her playful laugh, engaging smile, and exceptional elegance brightened everything around her, and she embodied what the best of the human experience can be through her personal integrity, dignity, and impeccable taste. Her devout faith also brought to all a compelling sense of calm in a tumultuous time. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her, but her legacy will live on for many years to come.

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