A gratefully received but unexpected gift, a well-used but well-worn pipe organ, and the need to restore and renew a beautiful but aging church became the seeds that, once sowed, lead to the November 21, 2010, dedication of the Van Ness Hamrick Organ, C. B. Fisk Opus 136 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Grace Van Ness Hamrick was a loved and long-time member of St. Peter’s. According to friends, she and her husband, Sidney, always attended the 8 a.m. service and always sat near the front of the church on the left-hand side, in the same pew claimed by her parents, Grace Montgomery Van Ness and James Henry Van Ness III.
Hired by the Charlotte Observer in 1958, Grace covered the city’s social life for more than thirty years. She was known to be particular about getting her facts right, but more important, she was trusted and respected for her ability to keep sensitive information to herself.
Perhaps that is why it was only after her death at the age of seventy-one in May 2002 that St. Peter’s learned of her generous gift of $2 million to the St. Peter’s Endowment Fund. (Grace’s generosity extended beyond St. Peter’s: She gave an additional $4 million to be divided between the Queens University of Charlotte’s music program and the Humane Society of Charlotte.)
Born into Charlotte society, Grace knew all of the city’s social giants, and they knew her. She attended Central High School in Charlotte and the Holton-Arms School in Washington, D.C., earned a business degree at the University of Georgia, and worked at Wachovia Bank and Queens College before moving to the Observer.
Close friends and associates, including Mary Utting and William Johnson, remember her humility, her sense of style, her willingness to help anyone who needed help, her love of music, and her love of animals—especially her dogs, which she and Sid always adopted from the animal shelter.
In her final Observer column, Grace wrote that she was retiring early “to have time to smell the roses.” She and Sid continued to attend the 8 a.m. service at St. Peter’s (reflecting their appreciation of the Rite One language and liturgy), and there Grace could be seen laying her hand on the choir rail and smiling approvingly at the organist as she passed by on the way to her pew.
A member of the 1834 Legacy Society, Grace made the largest bequest in the history of St. Peter’s, setting an example for others in the parish. We give our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Grace for the glorious music played on the occasion of the dedication of the Van Ness Hamrick Organ—and to be played for centuries to come.