Dorothy “Dot” McClure, the grande dame of the local theater community and one of the principal saviors of the Springer Opera House, has died. She was 89.
McClure and her late husband, Chuck McClure, were long-standing supporters of the arts in Columbus, particularly the Springer. The Springer’s theater academy bears Dorothy McClure’s name. Its small theater is often affectionately referred to as “The Dot.”
Chuck McClure was a successful television and radio station owner in Columbus and elsewhere, which allowed him and his wife to contribute generously to the arts and to create the McClure Family Foundation, which continues to support such causes.
In the mid-1960s, when the Springer Opera House was slated for demolition, the McClures, along with other patrons of the arts, were instrumental in saving and later restoring the historic structure. With their encouragement and support, it would come to be named the official State Theatre of Georgia.
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In the years since, McClure had been one of the most active supporters of the theater, financially and through her time and talents, say those who have known and worked with her.
Ron Anderson, who recently retired from his position as associate artistic director at the Springer, said even before her death, McClure’s presence inhabited the building and the organization “from top to bottom” and that won’t change.
“Her love and spirit will always be at the Springer,” Anderson said. “It made me who I am, and I think Paul (Pierce) would say the same thing, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of young people have been affected by her love and her spirit and her impishness and her guidance.”
For years, the Springer has held an annual event called Dot Day, where McClure would sit on the stage and speak to the young people of the Springer Academy about the history of the theater and how close it came to a date with a wrecking ball.
“It’s an incredibly moving experience,” Anderson said. “She always says, ‘We turned on our flashlights and we shined them out into the house and we dreamed about a day when there would be children all over the place.’ And then she says, ‘And here you are. And some day, one of you will sit right here and tell the story.’”
One of the young Springer Academy students in that audience about 17 years ago was a 10-year-old Theresa Garcia, who said she was profoundly affected by McClure’s story that day.
“I can very clearly remember the very first time I met her,” she said. “Sitting there on the stage, and of course she wears this big yellow hat with polka-dots on it, she would tell the story. I remember being awed by it and by her.”Garcia, now Theresa Robertson, and her family have been long-time supporters and participants at the Springer and its academy.
“I’m so glad that I got to be a part of that group of kids who grew up having Dot as part of their summer,” Robertson said. “There’s a whole generation of kids who won’t have that personal relationship with Dot, and I’m so grateful that I got to have a personal relationship with her.”
Lisa Bradfield Powers has seen McClure’s impact on the Springer from the perspective of a parent of a long-time academy student, but also as a member of the Springer’s board of directors. Powers said in addition to being a generous financial supporter through the years, McClure was generous to the theater in her death.
“There’s really no way to describe what her financial contribution has been. She gave money during her lifetime and upon her death. She is one of the key financial reasons the Springer will continue for generations,” Powers said. “Giving a gift like that, that she will never see the fruits of, and trusting that the Springer will be good stewards.”
Paul Pierce, producing artistic director at the Springer, said he considers it a blessing to have been able to work closely with McClure since his arrival in 1988.
“It was rather surreal waking up this morning and realizing that we no longer have Dot McClure in our lives any more,” Pierce said. “When I came to the Springer in 1988, the board had a list of dreams and aspirations. We all knew that it was not going to be easy, but Dot never really wavered in her optimism that not only could we do it, but that we would.”
Pierce said part of McClure’s legacy will of course be her work to rescue the historic theater from demolition, but he thinks her legacy, like the impact saving the Springer, will be much wider than just the theater itself.
“In 1964, the theater was slated for demolition and a group of young citizens decided that would be a bad idea,” Pierce said. “When they pooled their resources and allowed that first renovation to happen and allowed for plays to be presented here, I don’t think anybody realized then that that was the moment when Columbus, Georgia, turned the corner.”
Pierce believes that much of the renaissance that has since taken place downtown has been part of a ripple effect started by preserving the old theater.
“The very next year the Historic Columbus Foundation was founded, our first historic preservation ordinances were created, making it impossible for the destruction of something like the Springer Opera House to ever happen in the future of Columbus,” Pierce said. “Everything we see downtown today — the bustle and fun of Broadway, concerts and bicycle events, restaurants that are opening, CSU being down here, creation of the RiverWalk — everything down here started on the corner of 10th Street and First Avenue in 1965, when Columbus, Ga., had been going in the other direction and had pretty much abandoned downtown.”