A! Magazine for the Arts and its parent organization, Arts Alliance Mountain Empire, recently lost one of its most beloved members, Anita Coulthard. We asked Dr. Lisa Withers of the Emory & Henry College music faculty, to write a tribute about Anita’s legacy to the arts in the region.
The Emory & Henry College community and the greater arts community of the Arts Alliance Mountain Empire are mourning the loss of Anita Coulthard, one of the most generous and dedicated advocates for the arts and education that our region has ever seen. Before her retirement after more than 30 years of service as Arts Coordinator, college organist and instructor of music at E&H, Anita impacted the lives of countless faculty and students. Anita managed budgets, produced promotional materials, wrote grants and organized visual and performing arts events. She was often the first to arrive at arts events and the last to leave, always offering her legendary hospitality and assistance to all who came within her sphere of influence. If there was something that needed to be done and no one to do it, she always stepped in. For decades, the E&H College Chapel organ was heard at ceremonial events and concerts, responding to her masterful touch.
Students and faculty frequently found themselves sitting down with her in her office or in the E&H Memorial Chapel Sanctuary, sure of a ready ear to listen and willing shoulder to lean on. Her empathy and compassion fueled all that she did to advocate for the arts as the best way to form community and promote social justice. One of the passions closest to her heart was church music, and her time as organist and choir director at Emory United Methodist Church brought many students and community members together in shared music-making and fellowship. Legions of former students remember her as a supportive mentor in church music or music education classes or as a campus work-study employer.
Her volunteer work with the outside arts community was equally as significant, varied and consequential. She contributed her time and talents to the Arts Alliance Mountain Empire, the American Guild of Organists, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts (among many others), helping to connect these organizations to the communities that they serve. If there was an arts event in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, you were sure to see Anita there, either working or enjoying the event as an audience member with her husband, Curly, her daughter Catie, and her granddaughter Chloe. If her son, Jon, were home from California with his family, they would be sure to join her as well.
The remarkable thing about Anita was that, to her, everyone was family: her colleagues, her students, the guest artists that performed at Emory & Henry, her church choir members. If she knew you loved tomatoes, she’d leave a bag of fresh ones from her garden on your doorstep. If you were struggling with the loss of a loved one, she would come by with a casserole. If you received an award for some accomplishment, she would be the one clapping the loudest in the front row. Anita Coulthard knew that the arts were simply a reflection of our human desire to connect with each other. We are grateful and fortunate to have had her help us forge these connections with each other for as long as we did.