Dorothy Thurmond Obituary | Chattanooga Times Free Press

CARLSBAD, CA – Dorothy Free Thurmond passed away peacefully on August 29, 2022 in Carlsbad, California, where she had moved 18 years ago to be near her daughter Betsy and her family. She was born Dorothy Jane Free on December 21, 1928 in Chattanooga, Tennessee to (Maynie) Ruth Johnson Free and Clifford Edwin Free. She had a beloved sister, Sarah Ruth Free Hilliard. She was affectionately known as Dot, Dottie or “Dottie Free from Tennessee”. Dorothy grew up with a song in her heart. She made her professional debut at the age of four, singing on a local radio station in Chattanooga. At six and seven, while the Free family resided in Birmingham, AL for a few years, her great voice filled the famous Alabama Theater, when she sang as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. She was lucky to be accompanied by the great organist Jesse Walker. At age eight, she won a local radio contest after returning to Chattanooga. Her rendition of “Goldmine in the Sky” landed her a radio contract to sing weekly on WDOD’s Radio Playhouse. Dot has appeared with luminaries like Eddie Arnold, George Gobel, Archie Campbell (Grandpappy) and other Grand Ole Opry personalities. Growing up, Dorothy sang locally for most churches, schools, and civic organizations in Chattanooga, often accompanied by her sister on the piano. Dot attended Chattanooga City High and Chattanooga University where she was a member of the Chi Omega Sorority. Dot transferred to the Juilliard School of Music in New York to pursue an opera career. She studied with Evans-Evans, Miss Mary Ludington of the Met Studios, grand opera Eleanor Steber et al. Although Dot has appeared in several opera productions, she confessed that she just as much enjoyed singing with The Juilliard Swing Orchestra. In addition to her studies, she has been busy performing in Manhattan on Eddie Dowlings’ “Big Break”, Arthur Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts” and modeling for The Harry Conover Agency. Dorothy returned to Nashville, Tennessee to enter the 1948 Miss Tennessee pageant as Miss Chattanooga. She won and was thrilled to represent her beloved state as Miss Tennessee at the 1948 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, NJ. Dot won the Miss America Over-all Talent Award with her rendition of “Let My Song Fill Your Heart” and “Embraceable You”. Dot fell in love and married James E. Thurmond, MD on December 30, 1948. They first moved to Bridgeport, CT where Jim did his internship and residency at Bridgeport Hospital, before settling in Fairfield , CT. There they raised four children, three daughters (Cheri, Sasha and Betsy) and a son (Jim). Dot has lived in Fairfield, CT for over 50 years. Dot was a very positive woman with a strong faith. She was a member of First Baptist Church, Downtown Chattanooga, First Methodist Church, Bridgeport, CT, First Church Congregational, Fairfield, CT and attended Greenfield Hill Congregational Church of Fairfield, CT. She shared her beautiful voice with these churches and many more wherever she lived. Over the years, Dot has made a name for herself in her community by serving on many city councils. She was active in the Junior League and served on the board of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony and the University of Bridgeport. She served as the Judging Chair for the Jenny Lind Competition in conjunction with the Bridgeport PT Barnum Festival. She served on the Miss America Advisory Board and continued to sing and lecture throughout the East. In 1960, she sang at the 50th anniversary of the Boy Scouts where Ronald Reagan was a guest speaker. Dot and her daughter, Betsy, recorded an album, “A Beginning” at Pyramid’s Eye Recording Studio in Lookout Mountain, TN in 1981. The album included an original song written by Dot, “Till You Come Back Again”. Dot and her daughter have been invited to perform on The QE2 and at the White House during President Reagan’s 4th of July celebration. Besides loving music, Dot loved people and could find the good in everyone. She was a good listener and asked people about their lives. She was really interested and remembered every detail. She especially liked to remember birthdays. She sang countless renditions of “Happy Birthday” to family members and friends. Dot loved all animals, especially her dogs and cats. Dot loved watching all the talent shows, award shows, and sporting events, but she loved her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren more than anything else. Dot also liked to play sports. She loved skiing in Vermont with her family and friends. She was a member of the Black Rock Yacht Club, Brooklawn Country Club and Fairfield County Hunt Club where she loved to play tennis and platform tennis. Even though Dot started tennis in her late twenties, she became a very accomplished competitor on the court. She once played in the National Mother-Daughter Tournament in Forest Hills, NY with her daughter, Cheri. They didn’t win, but they did become lifelong friends with Dodo Cheney and her daughter, Christie. Dot won many local tournaments, but her highest tennis rankings were in the USTA National Mother-Daughter Division, #10 with Cheri and #6 with Betsy. Dot has become a popular realtor in CT. She was first a leading agent at William Raveis, then Fingelly Real Estate, now William Pitt Sotheby. She enjoyed showing homes, hosting open houses, and finding the perfect home for people in her beloved Fairfield County. This allowed him to make lots of new friends. Dot has always dressed up and has twice been voted Fairfield County’s Best Dressed Woman. She liked to curl her hair, accessorize her outfits and was known for her “designer hats”. Jackie Kennedy Onassis once complimented her cute hat at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Dorothy Free Thurmond was warm, friendly, kind, caring, compassionate, loving, generous, optimistic, loyal and talented. Dot was unforgettable. She is survived by her four children, Cheri, Jim (Patti), Sasha and Betsy (Greg), her seven grandchildren, Michael, Blake (Kiara), Brittainy, Clayton, Jessica, Gregory and Colby, and 2 great-grandchildren. grandchildren, Max and Harper whom she all loved with all her heart. Dot/Maman/Grandot will be missed by all who loved her, but we are better off for having known her. A celebration of life will be held at a later date. Instead of flowers, we ask that you greet those you meet with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. This is how Dot welcomed everyone into her life. May her song continue to lift the spirits of those who loved her as she lives in our hearts. As Dot would say, “Bye, Bye, Bye”.

Posted on October 16, 2022

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