Jane Murray Dillard, President of NATS from 2004-2006 has died at the age of 81 in North Carolina. Dillard served over 30 years as professor of voice at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Early in her career she was recipient of a Rockefeller Grant to study in Munich where she was winner of several international voice competitions. The summer following her time in Munich she had surgery for an acoustical neuroma of the right auditory nerve which resulted in deafness in the right ear and paralysis of the right side of her face. She abandoned plans to return to Germany as a house soprano at the Nuremberg Opera in order to overcome the obstacles presented by the surgery and rebuilt her voice, singing leading roles with the Charlotte Opera and Symphony among others. She also became a noted teacher whose students have had success as performers and teachers.
“Jane was President while I was serving as Mid-South Region Governor of NATS and at the time I was elected to serve as Secretary Treasurer,” says NATS Executive Director Allen Henderson. “She was a strong leader and during her term the longtime executive director of NATS, William Vessels retired and Jane led the search for our first truly full-time executive director, Kandie K. Smith, who served in that role from 2005-2007. She served NATS at a time when the advances in technology were beginning to change our profession and she advocated for NATS leveraging those advances for the benefit of our profession. Also ever present at NATS events with Jane was her devoted husband Noble who lent his humor and wit to many meetings and events.”
During Dillard’s term NATS also began planning for construction of the office space where NATS offices are currently located in Jacksonville. Although the offices were not occupied until the term of her successor, the wheels were put in motion due to her foresight. Another passion of Dillard’s was supporting and mentoring young NATS members which led to her championing the creation of the NATS Young Leaders Program, now called the NATS Emerging Leaders Awards. Since its inception, this program has supported over 50 teachers with ten years or less teaching experience with funding to attend the NATS National Conference where they network and attend a variety of meetings with NATS Leadership in addition to attending conference events. The family has suggested memorial contributions be made in memory of Jane to benefit the NATS Emerging Leaders Awards Program. Contributions may be made by visiting the Framing Our Future donation site. All gifts given in memory of Dillard will be directed to support of the NATS Emerging Leaders Awards program.
Past President Martha Randall, who succeeded Dillard in office, shares these words of remembrance.
Jane was my role model and my hero, but also my cherished friend of thirty-five years. She was my pathfinder in offices ahead of me, and a valued counselor when I was President and she was Past President. She would always want to get together “before the madness starts,” and when the event was over, she would suggest that we get together to “decofect,” a made-up word of her brothers, meaning to decompress.
I knew that her facial paralysis was the result of surgery for an acoustic neuroma. When I taught in her studio as part of the NATS Intern Program, I saw the stunning photo of her as Carmen when she was a promising young mezzo on a Rockefeller Grant in Europe. I asked her husband, Noble, if I could have a copy of that photo and it has been in my studio ever since. At the banquet in 2008, I had it displayed on the big screen when we thanked her for her leadership.
It was only in her last President’s column in Journal of Singing that I realized that she had had to learn to sing again after that fateful surgery, as her daughter Stephanie described in her tribute at the last Conference. How like Jane not to have even mentioned that to me in all the time we spent together! My admiration and respect took another leap upward when I fully understood how heroic she had been in changing her life’s path. NATS is our Association, but the colleagues we meet in it become treasured lifelong friends. I will miss not having just one more chance to “decofect.”
At the 2020 NATS Virtual National Conference in June, all living past presidents were present for the opening ceremony and were recognized. Dillard was represented by her daughter Stephanie DeJong, also a voice teacher and NATS member who spoke of her love for the organization and her many contributions to our profession as a whole.
Dillard’s complete obituary can be found at: