Dorothy Whitehead

Former Mattituck and Wading River resident Dorothy Whitehead died March 4 at San Simeon by the Sound Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Greenport. She was 93.

Dorothy was born Dec. 23, 1919, in Philadelphia to Matilda and Edgar Wilkinson. She attended school in Reading, Pa., and at age six was chosen to be a flower girl in a pageant. She loved to dance and, though the family often relocated, her mother saw to it she had dancing lessons all the way through high school. 

After graduation in 1937, Dorothy answered a call to appear as a showgirl in a musical revue on the boardwalk at Atlantic City. In 1938, she worked at the Merry-Go-Round Club at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlantic City and the famous Top Hat Club in Union City, N.J., where she turned Jimmy Durante down for a date.

She also danced on Broadway and, in 1939, at the age of 20, performed in musical shows at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, where she won the Miss Schaefer beauty contest at the Schaefer Brewing Company pavilion.

While dancing at the World’s Fair, Dorothy met Tom Whitehead, who she said “always wore a gray suit and a fedora and always had a beautiful car.” Their courtship lasted two weeks; they married, had four children and were wed for 68 years.

The family relocated from time to time in the Flushing/Bayside area. Tom became a vice president with Texaco in the late 1950s. Dorothy became highly skilled at sewing and hand-smocking and sold to upscale clothing stores. In the mid-1950s she worked at Mattel Toys as a spray-paint artist, painting the faces of dolls. 

When the family moved to Wading River, Dorothy studied portraiture and was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Rev. Nathaniel Hawkins, which now hangs in the Presbyterian Historical Museum in Philadelphia.

While Dorothy was in her 60s, she and Tom bought a 46-foot Chinese trawler and lived on it in Mattituck, enjoying many trips. They sold the boat in 1998 and moved to Port Jefferson Station. After Tom’s death in 2007 she moved to East Setauket. Failing health brought her to San Simeon early in 2011.

When asked if she had any regrets, Dorothy said, “I hated leaving the boat … but I knew it had to be.” She was most proud of her painting, she said, “because I know that if I look at something I can paint it.”

Dorothy is survived by her children, Eileen Whitehead of Cutchogue, Virginia Hoge of East Setauket, Thomas, of California, and Elizabeth Shaw of Sea Cliff; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Visiting hours will be held Saturday, March 9, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Coster-Heppner Funeral Home in Cutchogue. Private interment will take place at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Port Jefferson.

Memorial donations in Dorothy’s name to San Simeon by the Sound will be appreciated.

This is a paid notice.

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