A young singer leaves St. Louis for Manhattan, landing a prime spot as in-house vocalist for Cafe Pierre, the legendary Fifth Avenue restaurant.
“If Edith Wharton were reincarnated tomorrow,” New York magazine recently observed, “she’d hop on an M1 bus and head to Café Pierre for dinner.”
So began the professional career of Mary Pillsbury Wainwright, who would go on to perform at the Plaza, the Waldorf, Rockefeller Center and Madison Square Garden. Over the years, her audiences have included former U.S. presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush; former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; and former British Prime Minister John Major, among many others.
On Saturday, Sept. 10, the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis will dedicate its recently renovated Pillsbury Theatre in honor of Pillsbury Wainwright and her parents, Joyce Sanborn Pillsbury and Carol Fleming Pillsbury. The 300-seat Art Deco space boasts a Steinway piano and a terrazzo floor. It regularly hosts concerts, recitals, classes and other intimate events.
“Mary has cultivated a love of music well beyond her own years as a performer in New York,” said Dolores Pesce, professor of music and a longtime friend. “Now a successful businesswoman, she continues to sing publicly whenever possible and remains an enthusiastic patron.
“We in the music department greatly appreciate Mary’s support over the years,” Pesce said. “We are very proud to recognize Mary and her family.”
In conjunction with the dedication, the Department of Music will host a recital by pianist Dominic Cheli. The St. Louis native, who recently earned his Master of Music degree from Yale University, has performed at venues ranging from The Sheldon Theatre to Carnegie Hall. The program will feature music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Chopin, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy and Franz Liszt.
The performance begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, in the Pillsbury Theatre. Tickets are $15, or $12 for seniors and Washington University faculty and staff, and free for Washington University students.
The Pillsbury Theatre is located in the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity Ave., in University City. For more information, call 314-935-5566 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A history of service
Joyce Pillsbury earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Washington University in 1931, just one year after his brother Frederick graduated with the same degree. A U.S. Army captain during World War II, Joyce served as secretary-treasurer and later president of Century Electric, the company his father founded. He chaired the governing board of Missouri Baptist Medical Center for 40 years, and also served as president of the Missouri Hospital Association.
Carol Pillsbury earned a bachelor’s degree from Harris Teachers College and a master’s degree in educational psychology from Columbia University in New York. She served as president of the YMCA/YWCA at Washington University and as president of the YWCA for the greater St. Louis region. Her numerous honors include a St. Louis Women of Achievement award in 1983, and a Spirit of YWCA Award in 1990.
Today, Pillsbury Wainwright is president of the Mary Pillsbury Fine Jewelry Company, which she founded in 1978. A longtime board member of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, she also founded the Ed Heitz Memorial Research Fund — in memory of her late husband, who died at age 38 from acute myelogenous leukemia — as well as the Diamond Ball, which over 25 years raised millions of dollars for research, education and patient services.
At Washington University, Pillsbury Wainwright is a founder of the Friends of Music group and currently serves as vice president. For many years, she has provided a named annual scholarship in music and recently endowed the annual Pillsbury Concert. She also donated a new premier concert grand piano used in the university’s Des Lee Concert Hall.
In 2012, the national Leukemia & Lymphoma Society named Pillsbury Wainwright its Woman of the Year. That same year, she also received — like her mother — the St. Louis Women of Achievement award for accomplishments in both the arts and health. In 2014, she was instrumental to the passage of a state law that has removed barriers to lifesaving targeted oral anti-cancer treatments for 32,000 Missourians.
Pillsbury Wainwright lives in Wildwood, Mo., with her husband of 26 years, Don Wainwright, the former chairman and CEO of Wainwright Industries and former chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers.