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Connie Dey 'compulsive joiner and volunteer'

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Connie Dey

If you've ever been to a Christmas pantomime then chances are, Connie Dey's face is going to seem familiar.

The 77-year-old's appearance in 'Firebird' next month will mark her 19th Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society (BMDS) panto.

She was one of a handful honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council last week.

"If I'm getting the award for anything," she said, "it's having been in a heck of a lot of plays."

Besides pantomimes, she has been in countless plays with virtually every theatre company in Bermuda as well as community productions and radio advertisements.

"I do it because I love to hear laughter and I enjoy the opportunity to give an audience something to think about," Mrs Dey said. "The bottom line is, if the audience leaves the theatre happy, then I'm happy. That's what it's all about, isn't it?"

But Mrs Dey has not only been involved in a heck of a lot of plays, but also a heck of a lot of charities — 21 the last time she counted.

She has been awarded honourary lifetime membership by BMDS and the Bermuda National Trust (BNT), and is also a lifetime member of St. George's Historical Society, Bermuda Audubon Society, Seniors Learning Centre, Age Concern and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She is also a trustee for the Bermuda Endowment for the Arts, a registered charity which gives financial aid to individuals or organisations engaged in the performing arts.

"I am a compulsive joiner and volunteer," she said. "When you join things you get the newsletters and you can stay abreast of what's going on."

When we caught up with Mrs Dey, she was manning the desk as a volunteer at the Bermuda National Gallery (BNG). We watched as she patiently answered at least ten different queries about the location of the bathroom, and directed a catering service to a lost piece of dishware. She also listened to one gallery visitor's long and rather uneventful life story with extreme patience considering she was trying to get people out ahead of a private event. It was clear that Mrs Dey has a way with people.

In her long list of charities, the BNT should be in bold, as she has been heavily involved with them. In 1982, after some volunteer work, she was hired as administrative assistant to the BNT's first director, William Zuill. She also became coordinator of itineraries for cultural visits to Bermuda by historical societies, garden clubs, museum associations and the like. Her job eventually evolved into Bermuda's first cultural tourism officer under the sponsorship of the Department of Tourism, a position from which she retired in 2003.

"I recently retired from my work with the BNT, and then went right back to volunteering for them," she said.

She was born in Melrose, Massachusetts. Her father was an electrician and her mother was a homemaker while the children were growing up, and later became secretary to a realtor.

"My mother took part in high school dramatics, and often entertained at church and lodge functions, and I followed in her footsteps," said Mrs Dey. "I took elocution lessons as a teenager and was active in the drama club at Melrose High School before studying drama at Emerson College in Boston. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, I had to leave Emerson after a year."

She was lucky enough to find work as a commercial copy writer at a Boston music and news radio station, WORL, while continuing with night courses at Emerson.

"The 1950s were an exciting time to work in radio," she said. "Disc jockeys were considered celebrities and music stations were very popular."

She met her late husband Joseph Dey while on a vacation to Bermuda. They were on the Queen of Bermuda, and Mr Dey was seated at her table in the dining room.

"Later he joked that he had tipped the maitre d' dearly for a seat next to me," she said. "Joseph was also a theatre buff, so we spent our New York honeymoon taking in as many plays, musicals, operas and ballets, as time would allow. Broadway was a new and thrilling experience for me."

Mr Dey was the housing officer at Kindley Air Force Base, so the new bride moved to Bermuda to be with him. She soon joined the cast of the Kindley Air Theatre, a popular radio drama in Bermuda's pre-television days.

She became involved with the BMDS during Bermuda's 350th anniversary celebrations in 1959, and has been involved with them ever since. Her first foray into Shakespearian drama was the 1964 BMDS production of 'Twelfth Night'. Director Constance Bainbridge was, in Mrs Dey's words, "silly enough" to cast her as Lady Olivia.

"I had all these wonderful actors around me with beautiful English "Shakespearian" accents, and there was little Connie Dey from Boston. I kept trying to "sound like them" until Connie Bainbridge took me aside and said, "STOP THAT! Just be yourself!"

Shakespeare still scares her, but she couldn't resist Joel Froomkin's invitation to play the quirky Mrs Quickly in 'Merry Wives of Windsor' 30 years later.

After her introduction to ballet on her honeymoon, dance permanently entered her life when, in 1977, she was invited to join the board of the Bermuda Dance Theatre.

As it grew into the National Dance Theatre of Bermuda, she served as vice chairman or chairman for 15 years, and remains an honourary board member of its successor, National Dance Foundation of Bermuda.

"I think organisations ask me to do things for them because I'm dependable," she said. "If I say I'll do something, people know I'll do it. I like to support everything I can. The trouble is, I would like to volunteer for so many more organisations, but there simply aren't enough hours in the day."

But Mrs Dey said that while she volunteers for many other things, her main love has always been theatre.

She has two sons, Russell and David, and one grandson, Jacob, 12.

Percussionist Keith Caisey, arts patron David L. White, dancers Anne Cherry and Sal Hodgson, dancer Barbara Horton Symonds and theatre producer Marjorie Stanton were also honoured by the Bermuda Arts Council.

At play: Connie Dey with Stephen Notman in a 2006 BMDS Christmas pantomime 'Ali Baba and the Fourteen Thieves'