CHAPEL HILL - Daisy Belle Anderson Thorp, 82, an admired professor of art history, beloved mother and friend, and a major collector-developer of
North Carolina's artistic talent, died at her home on Saturday, December 29, 2007.
Though she hailed from Quaker stock, the Anderson and Worth families of Greensboro, Thorp's artistic pedigree began in Hollywood. Her mother, a legendary beauty seen on the cover of magazines, had run away to join Zigfield's Follies. Daisy also ran away, joined the Navy and served in World War II. She then chose to be educated at Chapel Hill, graduating with honors in 1950. Always a gifted performer, Daisy became the girl-singer with a popular campus swing band. She married her college sweet heart, the well-known lawyer, William L. Thorp (mentor to John Edwards and a generation of young Democratic lawyers). Daisy moved to Thorp's hometown, Rocky Mount. It was there the couple raised three children, William, Laurie and Isaac. Her liberal politics led to trail-blazing decisions that, in someone of Daisy's character, seemed only natural. She was Rocky Mount's first white society hostess to invite African-Americans to her
dinner parties as guests, not servers.
This drew the ire of an establishment always perplexed by Daisy, but forever disarmed by one so informed, good-looking, and cheerfully certain. She knew the Latin names of every flower in her admired cottage garden.
With her husband and friends, she founded the Rocky Mount Arts Center exactly fifty years ago. That organization now occupies the vast Imperial Center downtown, converted tobacco warehouses complete with professional theatre and sunny studio-exhibit spaces. The 1957 Art Center's first home was a small rental house that became a community outlet for civil rights and free expression. The Center would devel
op the artistic careers of many town children including film scholar, Mason Wiley.
Thorp adopted successive young artists whose best work she seemed to engender by simply predicting. Her nephew, Holden Thorp, Dean of the College of Arts and Science at UNC-Chapel Hill, has said, "I wouldn't be a college professor without Daisy. She made the relentless pursuit of knowledge the most exciting quest of all. Memorizing poems, experiencing art museums along side her, in our poring over great literature: she was always an educator, even in the peaceful clarifying way she died. First she showed us how to live a life perfectly then she taught us how to leave one.''
Thorp would go on to teach at Rocky Mount's North Carolina Wesleyan College. She helped the college acquire the Robert Lynch Collection of Outsider Art. Robert Lynch had been born nearby of Native-American and African-American heritage. He had graduated from Harvard then dedicated himself to commissioning art works by persons living within driving distance of his birthplace. Lynch's amazing collection comprised a portrait of Eastern North Carolina created by its ignored geniuses. Daisy Thorp understood his mission. It
was thanks to her community lectures, private persuasions and personal benefactions that Lynch, by then mortally ill, sold his entire collection to North Carolina Wesleyan. This group of works by Eastern North Carolina artists, worth millions, was subsequently sold at a loss after Thorp's retirement, over her
On her retirement from teaching, then-college-president Les Garner Jr. stated, "Daisy has always been able to identify and nurture the genius among us. She unwraps the inhibitions that keep our talents hidden. She has an uncanny ability to spot talent, even when it had not yet been seen by those who possess it.''
One of her local finds was the novelist Allan Gurganus. To Daisy, he dedicated his short story collection "White People''. He helped established a college fellowship in
her name and has written, "When I was ten, Daisy bought one of my paintings then invited me to her fine home to help her find the perfect spot for it. Daisy's house seemed a palace full of real paintings, new music, old books. In many ways, it was the home I had only imagined and it is a house I've never left.
Daisy led me into a world of love, discipline, political honesty, fearless artistic expression. And I am just one among the hundreds she rescued into sanity through art. Daisy will always be both our fairy God mother and our inventor.''
Paintings from Thorp's personal collection were seen at universities and museums around the world. As an actress she appeared in countless productions, touring England with
"Death of a Salesman'' in the Cape Fear Regional Theatre production. Favorite roles included Madame Arcati in ""Blithe Spirit'' and Domina in ""Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum''. But Daisy Thorp's truest medium was other people--- the native abilities of her fellow citizens. That faith ---along with her three gifted children, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren---surely constitutes Thorp's greatest living legacy.
Thorp also directed the first local chapter of Upward Bound, dedicated to giving underprivileged school-kids new experience and confidence. One locally famous expedition found Thorp taking her racially-mixed students on their first sailboat ride.
Needing access to the water, the group borrowed a handy cottage dock. Sailing back, they were disoriented to find that the dock's white owners had torn the structure down rather than let black children set foot on it again.
One of her last achievements was the publication of works by a young poet, Nick Glennon, a gifted friend who had died at fifty-one. Days before her own death, Thorp was handed the first copy of the work she had conceived and edited, "Journey Nonetheless: The Collected Poems of Nick Glennon''. So magnetic was Thorp's ongoing appeal as listener-advisor-encourager, her family finally gave up asking her to scale
back typical daily company. Even as Daisy Thorp's energy waned, the sign on her door said simply, "Keep visits short''.
Daisy Thorp is survived by her
children William Thorp of Beaufort,
South Carolina, Laurie Thorp of
Chapel Hill and Isaac Thorp of Cary,
her grandchildren, Kishie Thorp
Wyatt, Simon Thorp, Jesse Ainslie,
Gabriel Ainslie and Eli Thorp, and
four great grandchildren. She leaves
behind legions of friends and grateful students.
Contributions in her name can be
made to: Montrose Garden, PO Box
957, Hillsborough, NC 27278.
Funeral services will be held at the
Church of the Good Shepherd, 231
North Church Street, Rocky Mount,
NC, on Thursday, January 3, 2008 at
Published in The News & Observer on Jan. 1, 2008.