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George Franklin Perkins

(Sept. 16, 1923 - Feb. 16, 2014)

George Franklin Perkins, a beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, died Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, at The Springs of Missoula, Mont. He was 90.

Born Sept. 16, 1923, George grew up on Long Island, N.Y. From an early age, he was passionate about classical music, beginning with his devotion to playing piano, continuing with his education and profession. He proclaimed to have “conductivitis” in college, and fortunately spent most of his career as a talented and revered conductor. George attended Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., completing his master’s in music in 1948. 

He served our country as a naval officer after earning his bachelor’s of music from 1944-46. Assigned to an attack transport, he navigated to ports including Pearl Harbor, Guam, northern Japan, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Boston. Returning to Eastman, he met Lillian Dowling, herself a talented musician who had traveled from eastern Washington’s wheat country to pursue her master’s in music.  They were married in June 1948 in Rosalia, Wash., then moved to Missoula, where George took a one-year position as University of Montana choral director.

After a similar post with the University of Georgia, and two years teaching private music in Yakima, Wash., where Lillian taught school, they settled in Powell, where George was a professor at Northwest College. He commuted regularly to Billings as conductor of the symphony orchestra and choral, where they moved in 1959, becoming professor of music and humanities at Eastern Montana College, (MSU Billings). He was conductor and choral director for the next 29 years, retiring from teaching in 1988. He received the distinguished professor award for community service in 1981.

In 1993 George and Lillian returned full circle to Missoula, attending music events, continuing travel to Europe and Kauai, volunteering at the public library, still enjoying gardening, (especially flowers), tai chi, yoga, bridge, and spending time with family and friends.

George was preceded in death by son Neil in 1985. He is survived by his wife of 65 years Lillian; daughters Priscilla (Robert) Phillips of Missoula, Joan (Paul) Piper of Bellingham, Wash.; son Greg Perkins of Minneapolis; daughter-in-law Naomi (Tom) Fink of Bozeman; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

George shared stories of exceptional experiences from the 1940s in New York: dancing multiple times to Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, attending small intimate performances of Billie Holiday, Rachmaninoff, Ella Fitzgerald, early Broadway plays with Gene Kelly, Abbott and Costello, Marlon Brando and Henry Fonda. His memorable sports outings included seeing Jackie Robinson play his first game in 1947 at Ebbetts Field. 

George influenced countless people and communities through music; he founded the Madrigal Choir at Eastman, a swing band on his Navy ship called the “Happy Hour Story,” and the first Yakima Valley Symphony Orchestra. His commitment to the Billings Symphony delighted audiences and inspired pride in his family. When George was on the box conducting, there was ever a slight bounce, dance-like movement ... it was modest, expressive, lovely to watch.

He cherished life’s simple moments: taking in a beautiful sunset, sharing an unwavering love of vanilla ice cream with his great-granddaughter, pruning a fragrant rose, witnessing his grandson’s impressive jazz piano talent, sipping a perfect dry martini, listening to Beethoven, (lifting his hands as though conducting), generously sharing his knowledge of music and art with fellow friends at The Springs.

An open house to share memories of George’s life is scheduled Monday, Feb. 24, from 4-6 p.m. at The Springs of Missoula. The family will also gather at a later date to celebrate his life. 

Condolences can be sent to Lillian Perkins residing at The Springs or www.missoulafuneralhomes.com.

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