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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Arts supporter Dora Cooke Derby dies

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

During World War II, Hawai'i socialite and champion of the arts Dora Cooke Derby kept a small pistol nearby with five bullets in it — one for each of her four children and one for herself should the enemy seize the islands.

She also made sure those children attended the Honolulu Symphony, took classes at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, and kept up with their reading, Anna Derby Blackwell recalled of her mother yesterday, "so that if we were in a concentration camp, we could remember poetry and music and beautiful things."

Derby, who served for decades on the boards of the symphony, the Academy and Hanahau'oli School, died Saturday in Honolulu at age 95.

The first daughter of George Paul Cooke and the former Sophie Boyd Judd, Derby was born in Honolulu in 1907. She moved the next year to Moloka'i Ranch, which her father managed, and visited O'ahu often while he served in the Territorial Legislature.

She attended Punahou School until her parents founded Hanahau'oli in 1917. She later returned to Punahou, where she graduated in 1924. She spent a year at Dana Hall in Wellesley, Mass., and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College in 1929.

Her grandmother, Anna Charlotte (Rice) Cooke, founded the Academy, and Derby took a job in its education department after graduating from college.

In 1931, she wed Stephen Arthur Derby, who died in 1996 at the age of 91.

Founder of the Honolulu Symphony's Women's Committee, which started a music education project in public schools, Derby served as executive vice president for 10 years until retiring in 1970.

She was a trustee of the Cooke Foundation Ltd. for more than 30 years and a member of the Morning Music Club, Punahou Music Committee, Daughters of Hawai'i and Junior League of Honolulu. The first Girl Scout in Hawai'i, she later served as a Cub Scout den mother.

Derby is survived by daughters Anna Blackwell and Martha McDaniel and sons Philander Cooke Derby and John Montague Derby Sr., all of Honolulu; eleven grandchildren; eleven great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandson.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Atherton Chapel, Central Union Church, with private burial to follow. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Hanahau'oli School, Honolulu Academy of Arts or the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra.