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1934-1999 

Ella-Prince Trimmer Knox

Ella-Prince Trimmer Knox, one of Richmond's great ladies — she'd roll her eyes at the idea — died May 30. A few days later, family and friends filled St. Stephen's Episcopal Church for a memorial.

Stunned as they were by losing this extraordinarily warm, witty, observant and accomplished Richmonder, their collective voices filled the Gothic sanctuary with familiar hymns, joyously sung. Ella-Prince loved music, art and architecture. Just last year, undeterred by poor health that challenged her mobility, she and her husband, Joseph, motored through France. He had carefully planned the itinerary to include the most churches with the fewest steps to climb. Chartres Cathedral, one of her favorite places, was on the tour.

Following her own strict instructions, only a small obituary notice marked her passing. It mostly acknowledged her family, including Joseph and their two daughters. But if there is such a thing as a Renaissance woman, Ella-Prince defined the term. With degrees in art history from Sweet Briar and Yale, Ella-Prince ignited interest in fine arts since the 1960s through classes she taught and curricula she created at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Richmond school system and St. Catherine's and St. Christopher's schools.

During the early 1980s she was director of a sumptuous landmark Virginia Museum exhibition, "Painting in the South: 1564-1980" and wrote the introduction to its telephone book-thick catalog.

She was also a playwright and award-winning poet. "Belle!," a musical based on the life of Boston art maven Isabella Stewart Gardner, was produced here in 1987. More recently, her clever "Always on Monday" was produced by The Woman's Club on the occasion of its centennial.

In typical form, Ella-Prince reworked "Tea for Two" for five ladies to perform as rap. Another sketch poked fun at how some members of the tony club typically stuff refreshments into their purses to take home for supper. "They used to have iced cup cakes," sneered one actress playing a dowager as she slipped tea sandwiches off a silver tray.

"She could pin you like someone would pin a butterfly," says Robert Watkins, a long-time friend who directed her theater work, "but the barbs that were sent were always deserved."

While her wit was devastating, graceful and fun-loving best describe Ella-Prince.

Her smile was as bright as a theater marquee and whenever she entered a room or arrived at a cultural event, the intelligence quota rose substantially. She was not just interesting, but interested — a sincere communicator. Confined as she sometimes was to a cheerful sunroom with its chintz-covered sofa and neat stacks of books and magazines, she kept up with the family, friends and former students through newspaper clippings and telephone.

Her daughter Eliza recently said she took comfort in thinking Ella-Prince had already joined a long, heavenly kickline of Rockettes. No doubt. With her radiant smile and assured but quiet charisma, Ella-Prince Trimmer Knox could play to the back row like the best of
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