About William D. Eppes


William David Eppes of Goodwater, Alabama

William was born and grew up in rural Goodwater, Coosa County, Alabama. He lived most of his adult life with his life partner, Charles Flanders, in New York City. Educated as a librarian, Mr. Eppes was employed at Columbia University and Cooper Union College and other university libraries. William later sold his Greenwich Village townhouse and moved to Peterborough, New Hampshire, where Charles passed away on October 19, 2007 at the age of 87 and William passed away on August 23, 2009 at the age of 91.

The Jefferson Connection

William added “Jefferson” to the name of his foundation in honor of Thomas Jefferson. The Eppes family’s connection to Jefferson is through Jefferson’s nephew and son-in-law, Virginia Senator John Wayles Eppes, a direct ascendant of William D. Eppes.

Although William’s distant ancestors were plantation slave owners, William supported the civil rights movement, influenced by his early life in rural Alabama and his civil rights activist mother, Annie Lou McCord Eppes.

“I did not understand the duplistic system [of segregation] and said so. It makes no more sense to me now than it did then.” 

From The House, by William D. Eppes (Download PDF). For a more detailed human view through the eyes of six-year-old William, see Chapter Four: Life with Father.

Champion of the Underdog: A Narrative Portrait

Portrait of William in his later years by Karin Wells of Peterborough, NH

This portrait of William D. Eppes was painted by Karin Wells of Peterborough, New Hampshire, who formed a friendship and deep connection with William through their year-long work together on the portrait.

Karin describes him as charming, kind, proud, delightful and eccentric. He had a big heart and was a champion of the underdog. William was deeply offended and angered by the injustices of this world.

He wanted a theatrical portrait that would be noticed and loved the idea of “the narrative portrait.” He saw it as a little one act play with no script, lots of his favorite props – and a flattering spotlight on “the star of the show” – himself.

He loved the creative process and remained actively engaged in choice of props, clothing, symbols, and his Roaring Twenties cane with the secret compartment from which he sipped gin during their portrait shoot. He had a turtle-themed silver bracelet on his wrist – and an oriental rug at his feet that depicted a turtle. He said that the turtle was “his personal totem.” He once had a little pug named ‘Warlock’ that he dearly loved and wanted him to be in his portrait too.

William was thrilled with the painting, which he described as “museum quality”. The portrait hangs in the Park Theatre in Jaffrey, New Hampshire at the entryway to the William D. Eppes Auditorium.

An Ever-Aspirant Writer, Civic Worker, Preservationist

In 1978, Mr. Eppes wrote about himself in The Journal of the Theatre Historical Society. In his own words:

William D. Eppes is “an ever-aspirant writer, civic worker, preservationist, William and Mary alumnus and enthusiast, a theatre, art, classical music pug dog and humanities ‘nut’” who attended his first play as a child of the 1920’s. It was a creditable production of Clyde Fitche’s The City, presented in a tent, pitched in an Alabama pasture.  His mother, a patron of the arts and public education, had been one of the local, losing angels attempting to back “an unforgettable week of ‘culture’” provided by The Radcliffe Chautauqua.

Son Bill accompanied her to whatever “live” performances were offered, vaudeville, theatre, circus or opera, had some experience “on the boards” himself, but came to the conclusion he would rather pay his admission, relax and relish the occasion from the more comfortable side of the footlights.  He has since lived and travelled throughout this country and Europe and admits that he can spot a stage loft in any landscape as easily as a Dalmatian sniffs fire”.  His favorite theatre and opera playhouses include Elitch Gardens, Denver; Central City, Colorado Opera House; the ‘tragically and needlessly demolished Jefferson and Temple theatres of Birmingham, Alabama; Boston’s Colonial, a gem inspired and constructed by Charles Frohman; the Asolo in Sarasota, Florida; and The Music Box in New York City.

A Special Issue: THE EMPIRE THEATRE, Charles Frohman’s Lovely and Exciting Temple by William D. Eppes © 1978

William “Billy” David Eppes as a young man.                     Portrait by William Maltby Sykes 1940
William “Billy” David Eppes as a young man. Portrait by William Maltby Sykes 1940

The original oil portrait of William David Eppes by Sykes (45 ¾ by 36 in) was deposited at The Virginia Historical Society, July 1984 by William D. Eppes.

Mr. Eppes wrote of his memories of the artist and the portrait experience in 1994, following the death of Sykes.

“It was a pleasant experience. Maltby was a delightful raconteur having a wide circle of friends, certainly well read.” “An album of George Bellows (1882-1926) works had just been delivered to the studio, I had picked it up to leaf through, it appears naturally in my hands . . . My brother John Stinson Eppes reminds the green linen sports shirt was borrowed from him.”

William D. Eppes

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