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Napans gather Saturday in memory of Dotty

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Broadcaster, teacher, poet, ambassador of faith — Dorothy ‘Dotty’ Hansen was all these things and more during an extraordinarily rich life that spanned more than eight decades and took her to 53 countries.

“She was amazing,” said Pat Davis, one of several Napans organizing a celebration of Hansen’s life on Saturday at Jessel Gallery on Atlas Peak Road. The “International Pot Luck” gathering will include live music and what planners are calling  “Dotty stories.”

There will be plenty of tales to tell. During her years in Napa, where she taught at Vintage High, Redwood Middle and Browns Valley Elementary schools before retiring in 1986, Hansen made a lasting impression on countless students; she also made friends with her poetry and through her Baha’i faith. She died in February at Queen of the Valley Medical Center.

Davis, who first met Hansen through volunteer work, recalls that the two quickly became “joined at the hip.”

“She just became a part of our family; she was with us for holidays,” Davis continued. “Our grandkids thought of her as another grandmother.”

While Hansen was battled cancer in recent years, Davis spent every Tuesday with her friend.

“We talked and talked and talked, and there are still things we never got to talk about,” Davis said, marveling at the breadth of Hansen’s experiences.

From the Texas hill country where she was born in 1925, a descendent of the Goodnight family of cattlemen on which Larry McMurtry based his epic novel “Lonesome Dove,” to New York, San Francisco, Germany, Africa and finally Napa, Hansen broke new ground wherever she went.

As a young mother on the East Coast, she learned broadcasting; in 1950s, while living in Napa, she pioneered and hosted a San Francisco television show for teenagers, “Dotty Hansen’s Hi-Time,” that booked both black and white guests including Babe Ruth, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis and Duke Ellington. 

Not only did the show find an audience, but it won an Emmy award and a McCall’s Golden Mike Award, according to an obituary published in the Mineral Wells Index, her hometown newspaper in Texas.

“She was just this cute, perky little thing, and Coke was her sponsor,” said Davis, who has seen a rare copy of a “Dotty Hansen’s Hi-Time” show.

“We’re going to be showing it at the memorial,” Davis said.

Hansen went on to become a teacher, and in the 1960s she converted to the Baha’i faith and became an active spokeswoman for the religion and its teachings, traveling and working in countries around the world before returning to Napa in the 1970s.

“She was very passionate about her faith,” Davis said.

A lifetime lover of poetry, Hansen didn’t begin writing in earnest until she was about 50. Her work earned her not only admiration but the honor of becoming Napa County’s first poet laureate, a position she held for two two-year terms.

When artist Christiane Tsouo-Harvey moved to Napa 10 years ago, she attended a poetry reading by Hansen and, like Davis, soon found a fast friend.

“She was so open; she was so full of life,” Tsouo-Harvey recalled. “I spent many hours and many days with her before she died; she was delightful all the way to the end.”

The memorial celebration will begin with a gathering of Hansen’s friends at 5 p.m.; beginning at 5:30, one of her former students, Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, will speak about her life and work.

The Threshold Choir will sing and several people will read poems and reminisce about their experiences with Hansen, who, in Tsouo-Harvey’s words, “loved life completely.”

Anyone wishing to attend should bring some food and wine to share.쇓

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