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A tribute to Ethel Crook by Roger Briggs

Saturday, September 8, 2007 at Fountain Community Church, Bellingham, Washington

Have you ever come across something so beautiful that even through grief and tears it touches the deepest part of your soul? This took place Saturday during the memorial service for my mother. A number of times. For now, let me share the words of Roger Briggs, of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra.

Dear Judy, I am so sorry I couldn't stay for the luncheon following the beautiful memorial service, but I had another obligation. I wanted you to know how much I loved your Mom, how moved I was by the service, and how much I appreciate being asked to speak at your mom's service. I wanted you and your family to have this text for memories' sake...

I have known Ethel Crook for only 12 or 13 years, but her life reminds me of a story I heard many years ago and recently read again.

Photo of starfish taken August 14, 2007, by David Crook and edited by Judy Crook Vorfeld
A man is walking on a beach.
In the distance he sees a woman apparently doing some sort of ritual dance:

She's bending down to the earth,
Arching toward heaven,
Releasing some sort of energy toward the heavens and
Toward the vast seas...

As he approaches he sees that the beach is littered with starfish.

She is throwing them one by one into the sea.

"There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?" the man asked.

The woman smiled peacefully, released another starfish to the sea, and said: "It will make a difference for this one."

This woman is like Ethel Crook.

If I had to choose one word to describe her it would be "transformation." She has slowly transformed all of us in the artistic and musical community.

One by one she made a difference, until she literally created a full orchestra of beautiful starfish. You see, she co-founded the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra 33 years ago. She was able to accomplish this because she had saved so many starfish, because she had made a difference in so many individual lives -- she was able to create a cultural legacy--a full orchestra.

Our artistic community is deeply indebted to Ethel. An orchestra in Bellingham might not exist if it had not been for her patient transformative powers. She not only co-founded but she played with the symphony for 19 years. How many have played in the orchestra, sat on the board, and most importantly, sat in the audiences over all these 33 years? How many people, from mayors to children, have been transformed by Ethel's ritual dance of life?

When I first met Ethel, she was no longer playing with the WSO, but she still came to many rehearsals and sat in the back of the hall. When I was aware that she was there, I would go back during break and speak with her.

I remember one moment in particular. The orchestra was struggling in rehearsal, and so was I. I was discouraged and I knew others were as well. During break, Jack Frymire told me Ethel was present and that she wanted to speak to me. I thought, "Oh no!" But, I hurried back to see her.

With a warm glow and twinkle in her eye, she took my hand firmly and said: "The orchestra sounds wonderful."

Photo of starfish taken August 14, 2007, by David Crook and edited by Judy Crook VorfeldAt that moment I felt like a starfish being taken from the sure death of the beach and hurdled into heaven and finding my home in the sea again. I was transformed by her. The second half of the rehearsal went so much better.

To me, this was her nature. She transformed individuals and she transformed our community.

We, all of us in the artistic community of Bellingham, thank you and honor you, Ethel Crook, and we deeply appreciate your beautiful ritual dance of life and transformation.

Photo of rose grown by Carolyn Crook Downing, photographed by Judy Crook Vorfeld

Copyright Judy Vorfeld.
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