Gloria Rees Dunbar was the sunshine of many lives.
An accomplished classical singer, she loved sharing music with dozens of private-lesson students. She also was the force behind the Opera Omaha Cotillion, a program that teaches manners to middle-schoolers. She was a charter member of the Opera Omaha Guild.
And no matter what she was doing, she was joyful, said daughter Cindy Rhys of Sharon, Conn.
“She was such a bright light. She loved sunny days. She honestly loved just about everything,” Rhys said. “I just met a person who said ‘I always felt better after being with your mom.’”
Funeral services for Dunbar were Wednesday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. The 86-year-old Omaha native died Sunday at the Nebraska Medical Center after a short respiratory illness.
Dunbar, whose father was a musician, began piano lessons at age 5 and also played violin and viola. She majored in music at Omaha University and studied at Juilliard School in New York City. She played in the NBC Network radio orchestra and the Omaha Symphony.
A lyric soprano, she perhaps was most proud of being an oratorio soloist for Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” in Chicago. Rhys said. She also appeared in numerous Opera Omaha productions, was the music director at St. Andrew Episcopal Church and the soprano soloist at Trinity Cathedral.
Dunbar got into the manners business when she began teaching etiquette expert Marjabelle Stewart’s “White Gloves and Party Manners” at the old Nebraska clothing store. She had been coordinating the Opera Omaha cotillion for about 25 years when she stepped down in 2008. That same year, the Opera Omaha guild named an award after her.
Her manners education carried over into her voice studio, where she prepared many singers for college auditions.
“She taught her students a tremendous amount of poise,” Rhys said. “They were ready for any situation in which they had to sing.”
She also had a show on KMTV for a couple of years and was a radio fashion commentator.
Her husband, B. Lenox Dunbar — “the love of her life,” her family said — died 10 years to the day before her. Besides Rhys, survivors include a son, Bill L. Dunbar Jr., of Kansas City, Mo., two grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.