NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - The Schoolhouse Theater on Friday, April 3, shared with the community that its owner and founder, Leandra "Lee" Pope has died.
"As dark as the world was two weeks ago, I’ve moved to a new shade of Midnight," Bram Lewis wrote in a note to the community.
Here's Bram's full statement:
How I wish I weren’t writing this just now...
Scrolling back a fortnight ago, I did not know what I know today. I was hunkering down like everyone I know to stay safe and sound.
Our beloved Schoolhouse was closed and Spring performances would just have to wait...for well, a while...
But, as dark as the world was two weeks ago, I’ve moved to a new
shade of Midnight.
It’s my bittersweet duty to announce the death of our founder and owner, Leandra “Lee” Pope. ‘Bitter’ because it just is and though quite old, her passing was sudden and unexpected. And, ‘Sweet’ because anytime I can talk about Lee, the dopamine-neuro transmitters fire up in my brain and a smile lights up across my face and my being. As the old American standard has it, if they ask me-I could write a book.
Our own Michael Dandry, gifted journalist, WVIP/VOX Westchester radio personality and long time Schoolhouse Theater Board member and supporter has written this reminiscence:
Leandra "Lee" Pope 1936-2020
Having founded the venerable Schoolhouse Theater & Arts Center in 1983, it was fitting that Lee Pope should, as the poets and playwrights would have it,,leap the mystery of creation itself to die after a brief illness on March the 15th-forever theatricalized by the Bard himself on the Ides of March. Surrounded by her family, Lee Pope took center stage to be spared years of ill health.
Lee Pope's life and legacy will always be intertwined in the physical reality of The Schoolhouse Theater & Arts Center, which she created in Croton Falls, Town of North Salem. She had the astonishing vision that an iconic abandoned elementary school set high on a hill overlooking Route 22 would make a perfectly logical theater and arts center.
More astonishment distinguished her personality and life since. In spite of her unbounded generosity to support The Schoolhouse Theater & Arts Center for decades, Lee Pope the woman, was completely devoid of materialism or ego. Since first impressions are so important-let Lee Pope's aura of child-like wonder and utmost respect and admiration for the creative talents of others i.e, artists, and all categories of theater professionals, be the sentiment that pervades her on-going, evolving epitaph.
Generosity, vision certainly, backed by quiet, un-seen steely determination was her mode of operation. That extended to other areas of her life-including spirited support for progressive causes, diversity-as evidenced.by the fact that for 30 years, the theater's calendar schedule always led off with a performance by one of the music world's outstanding (African-American) Jazz musicians, Houston Person-a one-time fellow resident of quaint Croton Falls.
Yes, "All The World Is A Stage" and for over eight decades, Lee Pope played a star part, all the while from behind the curtain.
And as Ker Beckley, our wonderful Arts Gallery director and Lee’s friend observed:
“I feel lost like an orphan. I had her friendship for 40 years. For me personally, she was a mentor and a role model...it has been such a long strong relationship which wasn’t about a day to day connection...She had a generous and wise heart in spite of loss and heartaches...a life lived in authenticity. A perspective for all of us in these crazy times.”
For my part, I can see her pruning trees. Planting the garden. She re-paved the lot so patrons had easy parking. In winter, Owens Road was always the first road plowed in North Salem. In summer,
the long rolling verdant lawn was always cut and trim, our best advertisement for the fine old Jewelhouse awaiting the savvy trekker making that pilgrimage up the hill to see the wonders inside.
If that was her care for her patrons, just imagine how warmly welcomed were the painters, sculptors, photographers, the gifted paladins of the Arts...all...local and internationally acclaimed actors, writers, directors, producers and artists of every stripe...it was home...for thirty five years.
We mourn her loss. As her dear friend, Len Gochman who predeceased her by only a month said at last years celebration, our annual Tattoo: They aren’t making ‘em like her anymore.
What happens now? I don’t know.
Please celebrate her spirit so richly demonstrated by the pictures above. They are from
Westchester Arts Council’s Arts Award luncheon in April of 2018. They honored Lee
for all her extraordinary work over 33 years with their coveted Community Arts Award.
Something she richly deserved. I think these pictures from her dear friend Doug Abdelnour
define what a deeply happy day it was.
Second Star to the right Lee, and straight on ‘til morning...