Sylvia Dodd, music teacher and Pratt Library volunteer, dies

Sylvia Dodd, music teacher and Pratt Library volunteer, dies
Sylvia Betts Dodd was a music teacher in Baltimore County schools and a longtime volunteer and advocate for the Enoch Pratt Free Library. (Handout)

Sylvia Betts Dodd, a retired Baltimore County public schools music teacher and advocate for the Enoch Pratt Free Library, died of heart disease Oct. 15 at the Keswick Multi-Care Center. The Reservoir Hill resident was 91.

Born in Frederica, Del., in a 1740 family home and raised in New Jersey, she was the daughter of Herbert J. Dodd, a government employee, and his wife, Jeannette Betts, the head of Rhinebeck Country School.


She was a 1945 graduate of East Orange High School.

A neighbor, Lisa B. Williams, said Ms. Dodd had a goal of becoming a physician. She moved to Washington and attended the George Washington University.

“After a year, she changed her mind, wanting to expand her childhood-developed interest in music,” said Ms. Williams, director of Baltimore City Medical Society. “Her mother and grandmother played the violin, and mandolin and piano.”

Ms. Dodd moved to Baltimore and enrolled at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. She obtained a teaching certificate in piano in May 1951 and continued what would become a lifelong involvement with the Peabody.

As a student she was president of Phi Gamma, a chapter of Mu Phi Epsilon, the International Professional Music Sorority. After her graduation she was charter president of the sorority’s Alumna Chapter. Ms. Dodd was also recording secretary of the Peabody Women’s Board and, for many years, was a member of the Alumni Association Executive Board.

“Aunt Sylvia was elegant and meticulous and loved the color purple,” said her niece, Kathleen Wichmann Gaertner of Peacham, Vt. “She wore her hair perfectly. Nothing was out of place. She was also thoughtful.”

Friends said she attended Peabody graduations and reunions until recent years. She was also a benefactor to the school and established a memorial fund for it.

She taught music in the Baltimore County public schools from 1951 to 2000. She also gave private piano instruction to students.

“Many of her students kept in touch long after their instruction, and sent her birthday and holiday greetings,” said Ms. Williams. “They expressed their gratitude for her teaching, and encouragement of an appreciation of music.”

Ms. Dodd was a volunteer with the Enoch Pratt Free Library, where she also established a memorial fund. Ms. Williams said Ms. Dodd was meticulous in organizing documents relating to the library’s governance and leadership. She was a longstanding member and a past president of the Friends of the Pratt.

“The Pratt honored her for her over 40 years of dedicated service,” Ms. Williams said.

She also received the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association’s Heritage Award “for exceptional devotion” to the music school, now known as the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

She served on the executive board of the Baltimore City Tenants Association and had memberships in the Daughters of the American Revolution and Citizens for Maryland Libraries. She volunteered as a docent an the annual Designers Show House for the Baltimore Symphony Associates.

“Sylvia was a lover of the arts and, in her early years, she was known for exquisite parties and elaborate multi-course dinners she served her guests,” said Ms. Williams. “At these events, music was a course of its own — guests played and sang.”


Ms. Dodd was a 40-year member of the Johns Hopkins Club. Friends said it was one of her favorite places to dine.

She was a patron of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Opera Company and the Vagabond Players.

Ms. Dodd and her longtime friend, Ella LaClaire Bunke, who died in 2016, were residents of Temple Gardens, an apartment house that overlooks Druid Hill Park.

John Waters, the noted film director and author, said Ms. Dodd was his immediate neighbor for 17 years.

“My parties in those days could get wild and raucous and Sylvia and LaClaire never objected,” said Mr. Waters. “In fact, she came to all my parties. She was the first to arrive and the first to leave.”

Mr. Waters also said, “I have pictures of her posed with Divine,” the actor who was born Harris Glenn Milstead, who died in 1988.

“She was a music teacher — and I bet she was really strict,” Mr. Waters added.

Ms. Dodd was a collector. Friends said she had displays of hand bells, bookmarks, music boxes and antique jewelry. She was also a photographer.

A memorial service will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Barratt’s Chapel, 6362 Bay Road in Frederica, Del. A remembrance will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Johns Hopkins Club on the Homewood Campus, 3400 N. Charles St.

In addition to her niece, survivors include another niece, Sylvia Dodd of Bear, Del.; and two nephews, Lance Dodd of Burtonsville and Bruce Dodd of Frederick; and great nieces and nephews.