Remembering Marie Armstrong
By Bill and Kris Litchman
Many of us have super memories of vibrant, talented, sparkling, lovable Marie Armstrong, who lived a life full of adventures, travel, guitar-playing, singing, calling, teaching, and helping to produce the first Lloyd Shaw Fellowship dance kits—all fueled by the dances and music she loved.
Marie became involved with local community singing and dancing groups while working for the USO in Fairbanks, AK, during World War II. At a local folk dance she met a man, once a Cheyenne Mountain dancer with Lloyd Shaw, who gave her a copy of Cowboy Dances. She called her first square dance, “Red River Valley,” in Fairbanks. Music and dance were the center of her life from then on.
After the war, Marie returned to her birthplace in Oak Ridge, NC, and met Don Armstrong, who was calling squares, and Ralph Page, who was calling contras, at the 1954 Emory University dance camp in Georgia under the direction of Fred and Mary Collette. Don and Marie married three months later and began decades of sharing their love of dance across the country and around the world.
In 1960, Marie began 25 years of summer work at Peaceful Valley, a guest ranch and lodge in the Colorado Rockies. She led folk dancing and singing, trail rides, hikes, excursions, picnics, and other activities for guests. Don spent the summers calling one-night stands and doing a lot of fishing; he stopped off for Saturday nights at Peaceful Valley whenever he could.
In 1963, Don and Marie created the first radio station in New Port Richey, FL, developed properties in Costa Rica and the Cayman Islands, and began traveling the world calling and teaching dancing. Marie preferred calling contras to squares and spoke fluent Spanish by the time she was 55.
Don and Marie became involved with the annual Lloyd Shaw Fellowship in Colorado and with its program for teaching dance leaders. Marie was instrumental in developing the Lloyd Shaw Foundation’s dance leadership program for school teachers and recreation leaders. Don assumed a leadership role in the formation of the LSF Foundation in 1964.
Eventually, Marie was able to dance and teach all over the world, relying on the universal language of music and dance to reach the hearts of people everywhere. With her creative sense and understanding of the basic human needs of all of us, she was able to reach into people’s lives and bring out the universal community of humanity in us all.
We met Marie and Don around 1970 at the Lloyd Shaw Fellowship Week, where Marie specialized in leading our singing sessions. We remember the round “Pauper sum ego, Nihil habeo, Cor meum dabo” (“Poor am I, Nothing have I, I give you my heart”) as a particular favorite.
In 1986, we were able to join Marie at Peaceful Valley for nine years of wonderful fun. We loved being part of the staff with Marie and learned much from her about working with all kinds of people, making their lives happier. That is our strong memory of her still: her love and acceptance of everybody, everywhere, as she shared her delight in dance and song.
We enjoyed visits with Marie and Don when they lived in Colorado and later in Missouri, where Don died in 2000. Following his death, Marie moved back to North Carolina and several years later married an old high school friend, David Stewart, with whom she happily aged until his death in 2019. In Marie’s later years, we had opportunities to touch base with her as she continued to serve others in her wider community. She called us one day from her retirement community asking for help in obtaining music which she wanted to use to teach her fellow retirement neighbors. She said they weren’t thriving and needed some stimulation in their lives. She felt that even though she was 99 years old, she’d be able to help her neighbors be more active doing some rhythm activities, singing, and dancing together.
That was Marie all over. Vibrant, outgoing, and loving to the very last. Even in the face of the pandemic, she was determined to open new vistas to her aging neighbors. We’re glad she was able to celebrate her 100th birthday with family and friends in 2020. What a woman! Marie, we love you!