It was Lorraine Wales who conceived of and created the Vail Series we know, which began with the college’s first-ever million-
dollar gift—a gift which came from Chicago businessman Foster McGaw and his wife Mary. The McGaws wanted to honor Mary’s daughter (his step-daughter) Jeannie Vail ’46, who attended Denison and succumbed to polio at a young age.
Robert C. Good earmarked a third of the gift to provide a fund for arts programming, an idea he initially framed as “Culture in the Cornfields,” which was renamed “Events in the Arts.” The money woud rotate between the arts departments to support their choices of guest artists and speakers.
When it was dance’s turn to receive the funds for the 1979-80 academic year, the interim chair at that time, Anne Andersen, felt unable to make plans for the year ahead. Lorraine Wales, who was for nine years the resident musician and pianist for dance, was in the room when provost Lou Brakeman came to talk to Andersen. During a pause, Wales said: “If nobody else is interested, I’d like a crack at it!”
Wales imagined using the funding to create a far more impactful program than Denison had proposed: Instead of spreading the money between a number of visiting artists, why not focus the resources on one or two high-profile artists each year? By autumn, she had been named the coordinator of “Events in the Arts,” and had transformed the program into a signature series, planning an inaugural four-day festival that would integrate into the curriculum an approach to hosting artistic guests which is now standard practice at Denison. The festival included theatrical legends Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, The McClain Family Band, and the first formal Vail Series concert featuring the world’s premiere violinist, Itzhak Perlman.
Wales was a rare combination of presenter, manager, negotiator, planner, promoter, producer, confidante, and host, all of it packaged with a very personal flourish. She did laundry for the King’s Singers, made breakfast for Maya Angelou, and stationed a Vail intern all night at the Granville Inn in case Leontyne Price needed room service.
Wales liked to use the phrase “a collaboration of high ideals and magnificent good fortune” to describe the Vail Series. Vail was her own magnificent good fortune, and she was ours. Wales died Feb. 3, 2018, at age 85. She was preceded in death by her husband, George Wales. She is survived by her sons, Craig and Douglas, daughter, Jennifer Hurley-Wales ’83, and three grandchildren.
—James Hale ’78