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The Globe and Mail

Lives Lived: Dorothy Novotny Brandenburg, 98

Musician, teacher, real-estate developer, visionary. Born Feb.14, 1914, in Toronto, S.D., died Jan. 13, 2013, in Stratford, Ont., of pneumonia, aged 98.

When Dorothy was young, her parents wanted her to study home economics. Instead, she became a fine pianist. She longed to leave small-town life in South Dakota, and she did that, too. When her father said, "Dorothy, you are so insistent and so persistent," he was right about her character and drive.

My mother grew up in a middle-class family that had suffered losses during the Depression and dust-bowl years. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom and her father a small-town banker.

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Dorothy's dream of becoming a part of city life in Chicago came true. Later, she taught music and art to children in public schools in the suburbs, as well as Saturday art classes for kids at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. On Sundays, she was a church organist.

She got her BA in music from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 1932. When she was 55, she embarked on a master of fine arts degree at the Art Institute of Chicago. She and I were in several classes together. There, she became acquainted with others who shared her passion for the arts in general.

She loved politics and the world stage, reading about well-known writers, artists, scientists and other exceptionally interesting individuals, and was especially knowledgeable in opera and ballet.

After her move to Stratford to be with her daughters, when her grandchildren became passionate about major-league basketball, she became a sports fan as well, watching the NBA games diligently.

She was widowed three times – Michael Bender, the father of her three daughters, passed away in 1970, Donald Novotny in 1985, and Walter Brandenburg in 2002. Yet Dorothy remained full of energy to go on with life.

With Donald, who was a real-estate lawyer, she was able to fulfill her real genius, which was in renovating older and derelict properties. In Stratford alone, she brought to life six ailing 19th-century properties, some of which were bought by her daughters, others becoming deluxe inns. For years, she ran two of the inns herself, supervising the whole operation.

Over the years, Dorothy travelled the world, visiting India, Russia and Mexico, just to name a few countries that inspired her. She instilled in her three daughters Nadia, Natalie and Nina, and her eight grandchildren a love and appreciation of ancient cultures that offer a rich and varied perspective on life.

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Most of all, she participated with great enthusiasm in the many things she found engaging. She had an indomitable spirit, and was an architectural visionary with her redevelopment projects.

We will dearly miss her generous devotion to family, her humour and her love for all of us.

Natalie Green is Dorothy's daughter.

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