Born to Robert and Laura Dowling November 27, 1924 (Thanksgiving morning) in Rosalia, WA., her early years were spent on the wheat farm, with an aptitude for reading and music supplementing her rural surroundings. Lillian was placed in second grade at five years old, graduating as valedictorian at age sixteen.
Intelligent and ambitious, Lillian planned to go to college; due to her young age, her parents insisted it be close to home. Eastern Washington College offered an academic as well as music scholarship—she was a proficient violinist. By age 19 she had earned a B.A. in Education, Music Minor, and began teaching in Colville, WA . Lillian had a goal in mind: earn a Master’s Degree in Music at a high-ranking music school. Saving much of her teacher’s salary for two years, she applied to Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, 100 accepted out of 1000 applications. She completed her course work and thesis within a calendar year. There she met George Perkins, likewise completing his Master’s in Music—joining his newly-formed Madrigal Choir. They dated “despite his different cultural roots of Long Island, NY”.
George followed Lillian to Yakima where she taught, calling from the local bus station! Making ends meet by teaching piano lessons, George pulled together local musicians to form the Yakima Valley Symphony, including Lillian and her sister Agnes as violinists.. They were married in Rosalia, June of 1948—nearly 66 years ago. They spent that summer in New York working at an Atlantic Beach club, attending Brooklyn Dodgers’ games and frequenting the city’s amazing jazz and swing scene. George took a one-year position as choral director at the University of Montana, where Lillian worked for the Forestry School. After one year at University of Georgia, and a move to Yakima, George secured a position at Northwest Community College in Powell, Wyoming, where they made numerous and lasting friendships. Lillian and George commuted two years to play viola and conduct (respectively) with the Billings Symphony, finally relocating as George became a music professor at MSU-Billings, continuing as conductor for 29 years.
In 1969, the last of 4 children in school, Lillian revived her teaching career—unique positions such as Federal Migrant Program, teaching children of migrant workers who otherwise might not experience school; Teacher Corps, and Career Opportunities programs, flying to Indian Reservations to prepare upper-division Native American students to become qualified teachers; finally hired at MSU-Billings as professor of Music Methods in Elementary Education.
In 1993 George and Lillian returned full circle to Missoula, attending music events, continuing travel to Europe and Kauai, living on the hill near family, until moving to The Springs in 2006, where they appreciated the staff, meeting new friends, playing bridge, and staying current.
Lillian was preceded in death by her parents, sister Agnes Thomas, brother Dr. Robert Dowling, her son Neil Cortland Perkins in 1985, and recently her husband George, February 16. She is survived by her sister Kathleen Campbell, sister-in-law Phyllis Dowling, daughter Priscilla Phillips (Robert) of Missoula, grandchildren Cameron and Emily (Tom), great-granddaughter Abigail; daughter Joan Piper (Paul) of Bellingham, grandson Jordan; son Greg Perkins of Minneapolis, grandchildren Chad (Charli), Anthony, Alicia (Brandon), great-grandchildren Lilliana, Zenius; daughter-in-law Naomi Fink (Tom) of Bozeman, grandchildren Rachael (Greg), Daniel (Brittany), Laura (Matt) and great-grandson Colby; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Lillian loved challenging the norm, black licorice, pets over the years, being a 55-year member of AAUW, a good bridge hand, and political discussions. She was known for her sharp wit, musical talent, intelligence, ageless beauty, and innate curiosity—she wanted to live long enough to “see how things turn out”. She could amaze with her lifelong perfect pitch, appreciate and encourage her children while not tolerating bragging, laugh until tears flowed, recall her family with joy and pride, find humor in unlikely moments. She proved one could go from driving a wheat truck during harvest to the top of the class at a prestigious university, sharing with small communities her love of education and music.
The family will celebrate Lillian and George’s life later this summer. Condolences can be sent to the family c/o The Springs of Missoula. Mom, we know you and Dad are once again creating celestial music.