ROCKFORD, IL—Retired post office branch manager Nancy Hollander, 97, died at her home of natural causes Tuesday, after spending her life completely unaware that she was one of the most talented musicians of the past century and possessed the untapped ability to become a world-class violin virtuoso.
She is survived by two daughters, a son, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, all of whom will forever remain oblivious to the national treasure Hollander would have become had she just picked up a violin even once.
"We're really going to miss Mom—she was such a gentle, sensitive, perceptive person," said Hollander's son, David, unknowingly outlining qualities that would have infused his mother's interpretation of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with a singular, haunting beauty capable of moving the most jaded of souls. "Even though she never drew attention to herself, Mom had such a strong, commanding presence."
"I swear, she should have been an actress or something," he added.
Former colleagues at the U.S. Post Office branch where Hollander worked for 40 years also fondly remembered the unexploited musical genius who, had she ever taken in hand a freshly rosined bow, would have instead been fondly remembered by various musical luminaries and heads of state in a special three-hour tribute concert on PBS.
"Nancy was the most gracious person I ever met," said retired coworker Geraldine Hunter, 82, echoing nearly verbatim what Pope John Paul II would have said after inviting Hollander to play at the Vatican in 1989. "She really lived every day to its fullest, and I don't think she could have been blessed with a better life."
Hunter also recalled Hollander's humility when being promoted to manager—the highlight of Hollander's professional life, as opposed to playing the Franck Sonata at Carnegie Hall accompanied by world-renowned pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy as Itzhak Perlman wept openly with sheer joy from the front row.
According to sources, Hollander was very active in her church. Pastor Frank Davis said that she took the most joy in singing with the choir during holiday masses, an experience she would have found a hellish, atonal cacophony had she completed the highest level of ear-training at The Juilliard School, where she could have received a full scholarship based entirely on the strength of her student audition.
"To be honest, she didn't have the best singing voice in the world," Davis said. "But she really put her heart and soul into it, and she had an uncanny ability to sing any hymn all the way through perfectly after hearing it just once."
Davis also praised the potato salad Hollander brought to church picnics, heartbreakingly referring to it as "world famous."
Perhaps most distraught by Hollander's passing were her great-grandchildren, who seemed to have some dim perception of being robbed—along with the rest of the world—of their great-grandmother's tour de force performances in rapt concert halls from Vienna to Tokyo.
"Grammy was really funny, like when she would play silly songs on the ukulele to make us laugh," said Lilly, 6, referring to the instrument purchased for Hollander on her seventh birthday in 1920, her father having paused momentarily in the music store to consider a violin. "I miss her a lot."
"When I grow up, I want to play the ukulele just like Grammy," Lilly added.