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Professor’s life enriched by music, France

Joe Napsha
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Donald Wilkins fell in love while he was a student in postwar Paris, married his bride, returned home and pursed a career in music and teaching.

“He always viewed himself as a teacher. He was an intellectual and a scholar. He was an amazing musician and never forgot a piece of music,” said his daughter, Laura Stuker.

Donald G. Wilkins of Shadyside, a professor emeritus of music at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Music, died on Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, in Excela Latrobe Hospital. He was 89.

He was born in Pittsburgh, the son of Mary L. and George Henry Wilkins Jr., who founded the KDKA-AM radio orchestra.

He graduated from Peabody High School at 16 and entered Carnegie Institute of Technology to study music. During World War II he joined the Army Air Force, serving in the Pacific.

Mr. Wilkins resumed his studies in Carnegie Tech when the war ended, earning a degree in pipe organ. He was admitted to the Paris Conservatory, where he was a pupil of famed French composer and organist Nadia Boulanger.

It was in Paris that he met the teenage Colette Jousse, a fellow student. They married in 1952 in American Cathedral Church, the “mother church” for the Episcopal churches in Europe, where he was an organist and choirmaster for three years.

When the newlyweds returned to the United States, Mr. Wilkins earned a master’s degree in music from Harvard University.

He took a job at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside, where he was organist and choirmaster for 42 years. He served 11 years as an organist and music director at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church.

He was a professor and choral director in Duquesne University for a decade before returning to Carnegie Mellon in 1967 as a music professor, a position he held the rest of his life.

In 1960, Mr. Wilkins founded and directed the Pittsburgh Oratorio Society, which performed the great choral works that require an orchestra, Stuker said.

The family had a home in Ligonier Township, where they would live every summer.

“He absolutely adored Ligonier,” Stuker said.

A Francophile, Mr. Wilkins conversed with his wife in his flawless French, Stuker said. He enjoyed playing four-hand piano music with his wife, an accomplished musician in her own right.

Mr. Wilkins was a member of St. Michael’s of the Valley Episcopal Church in Rector, where the family request that donations be made.

He is survived by his wife, Colette Jousse Wilkins; three daughters, Laura Stuker of Sterling, Va.; Catherine Wilkins of Juneau, Alaska, and Dr. Isabelle Wilkins of Pittsburgh; a son, Mark Wilkins of McCandless; and five grandchildren.

Friends were received in John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc. funeral home in Shadyside. A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Calvary Episcopal Church, 315 Shady Ave., Shadyside.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or [email protected].

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