The Fay Family: Maud Fay Symington: Living in Awe

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Maude Fay Symington
Living in Awe
Edited by Marshall Dill, Jr. (Maud's nephew)
The following excerpt was published by Ian C. Symington
The Family History Society for Symington and related names, Issue 6: March 1999
BOOK REVIEW: Living in Awe, by Maude Fay Symington
The following section has been taken from the book produced by Maude Fay Symington, who compiled her memoirs, and then were later published by her nephew Marshall Dill, Jr. It provides an insight of her earlier days as an Opera singer and then her later marriage to Powers Symington, from the ‘Baltimore’ line.
When Prince Ludwig, eldest son of the deceased Prince Regent, was to be enthroned as king of Bavaria in 1913, I was invited to be the soloist at the enthronement. I was humbly grateful at this beautiful compliment. A royal coach was sent for me drawn by two horses, with two men in front and one behind, wearing the brilliant blue of the royal uniforms, and the flying feathers; it was too magnificent. When we arrived at the imposing Frauenkirche, we saw the populace at all the entrances, pressing up against the massive portals. Inside, the crowned heads and royalties from all over Europe were assembled. I sang Cherubini's "Ave Maria" with English horn obligato. I had sung this at a religious festivity in the Royal Church and the Court liked it. All thanked me most graciously and paid me very nice compliments. It really gave me an exceptional emotion to sing a king on to his throne; no one knew then that the opportunity would never come again. Ludwig III was the last king of Bavaria and died in exile.
I received the title of Konigliche Bayerische Kammersangerin for life. I trust they did not have their tongues in their cheeks bestowing it upon me, sensing that the Order's life was to be of so short a duration. No, I am certain those dear, good souls had in no premonition of the overturn that lay so close ahead. I was told I was the only American who had ever been the soloist at the enthronement of a king.
During those years I also received some other decorations, one for Kunst und Wissenschaft (art and science), which embarrassed me a bit as I felt that I really had not made a great contribution to science. Another was the Order of the Rose, a very lovely one from the Duke of Regensburg.
On January 10, 1922 I met Captain Symington. The night before there had been a beautiful ball at the W.H. Crocker home. At the ball Helen Cameron asked Captain Symington if he had met the wittiest woman in town, Mrs. Kirby Crittenden (my sister Stella). Symington was at that time head of the Navy Board of Inspection in San Francisco, and my brother-in-law, Kirby was a member of the board. Helen told him to call on Stella and that if he did he would also meet the diva, her sister Maude. She called me the next morning to say that Captain Symington would be out for tea that afternoon and that she would also be there.
At the time the guests were expected I was home alone because Stella had a luncheon engagement and had warned me she might be late for tea. I was strumming on the piano in the back parlour when Margaret, the maid, came back through the drawing room and announced with all three chins wheezing it out, "Miss Maude, it's your man." I actually blushed and hushed her indignantly. I walked through the front parlour and there I saw "Pete" for the first time. My first thought was "not at all bad." It was the first twinge of attractive interest that I felt in any man since leaving Europe.
My darling "Tut" (Stella's nickname) came in later and brought as she always did, witty story telling, laughter, and affection. She was the greatest mimic I ever knew.
The conversation turned to a discussion of international conditions in a world still disturbed and frustrated, though the war had been over more than three years. I made the comment, "Uncontrolled prejudices nurturing ignorance and hatred caused that war. Thank God I no longer have any prejudices." The captain, seated next to me, stated in a quarterdeck voice, "I deny anyone, war or anything else, to rob me of my prejudices." This sounded pretty positive and adamant. "And what might your prejudices be, Captain Symington?" I asked, thinking what a pity it was to hang on to, and harbour, hidebound prejudices. With no hesitation, he replied in his very agreeable sonorous voice, "My prejudices are against anything German, anything Irish, and anything Popish."
That was breathtaking. I loathed him. The grins on the faces of the other tea guests and especially my sister were difficult to suppress. Walter Martin broke the tenseness by saying, "You have the diva there coming and going."
I stiffened my spine and perhaps my jaw also as I retorted, "All the extraordinary joyous experiences of my life, and they were joyous, I had when living among German speaking people, more especially Bavarians and Austrians. They are my warmest dearest friends. So much for your German prejudice. Secondly (and by now I was on my feet delivering an ultimatum), the fact that I have Irish ancestry, although my parents were born respectively in New York and Pittsburgh, is what made my career. In London I was called 'Irish' and 'Isolde the Irish princess.' Thirdly, by the grace of God I am a militant Roman Catholic. That, as you see, covers all three of your prejudices." Fortunately Jane Thaw and I had an engagement to take the great English cellist, May Muckly to Petaluma, where she was billed for a concert that evening. I said a cool "Good bye" to the tea guests. I had made no impression on Symington; not even a superficial "I am sorry" or a flippant "I beg your pardon" came from him. As we stepped into Jane's car after taking great trouble to get the precious cello into a secure position, Jane, shaking with laughter, and with tears in her eyes, commented, "Angel, that is the only man that can ever control you. He is your man."
By June 11th we were engaged and married July 12th (1922). Our first engagement party was another coincidental extravaganza. It was a luncheon on a battleship with seven men of the Annapolis class of 92, by chance all together in San Francisco. Captain Symington had been skipper of the "U.S.S. Mississippi" which, after a South American cruise was based in San Pedro. I, of course, did not know the popular skipper then but the fame of the "Mississippi" had reached far and wide. The First Lieutenant was Bob Munroe, later a Vice Admiral, who then acted as master of ceremonies for the delightful parties on Captain "Pete's" ship, as it was known. The guests came from Pasadena, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and, it would seem from the entire West Coast. Many of my friends told me about the gay dinners and the attractive unique set-up of the ship, all done in the good taste of Captain Pete.
Archbishop Edward Hanna did us the very great honour of inviting us to be married in his own private chapel. I understand it was the first in San Francisco of a Catholic and non-Catholic being married at the altar.
The Archbishop had told me that the chapel was small and that the whole ceremony must be kept very simple. Eleven members of the Symington family, an enormous clan in Maryland, decided to come west to be present. Pete had asked Jack Miller of Pasadena to stand up with him. I asked my sister, Edna Dill, to be my matron of honour. No invitations were engraved and everything seemed to be going along very quietly and privately. In spite of this a combination of my career and Pete's popularity in the Navy kept the newspapers full of the engagement. It was a lush moment in America.
July 12th was a lovely warm night. We arrived at the Archbishop's palatial home at the corner of Fulton and Steiner Streets, and to our breathless amazement found a crowd waiting outside. Inside, in the large vestibule, were Rudy Sieger and an orchestra of about twenty all set to play the Wedding March. I could not believe my eyes when I saw four stunning gentlemen with yards and yards of broad white silk ribbon forming the balustrades on the wide stairway leading up to the second floor chapel. These ribbon bearers were four startlingly attractive men, Pete's brother Jack from Baltimore, George Garrett, "Cappy" Black, and Julian Theme, all self-appointed and having a grand time putting on a show. I was rather confused, fearing the Archbishop might believe I had completely disregarded his request to keep the ceremony small and simple. I was still more confused when I arrived at the door of the chapel to find it jammed full with just everybody. And even more, the wedding attendants on the steps of the small altar were now four instead of two. Tom Symington, Pete's eldest brother, had simply announced that he would be a best man, and also my dear Helen Cameron had just returned home, so she joined Edna Dill as an attendant.
I walked up to the altar on the arm of my brother, Philip, and when Pete stepped up, I wanted to throw my arms around him there and then. I had never seen him in full dress uniform, which in those days was truly full dress, complete with epaulettes, gold sword and all the trimmings. His Excellency the Archbishop, looking so handsome and dignified in his ecclesiastical robes, with two assisting priests met us at the altar. For a moment it was difficult to find place for nine persons at the small altar, but all was quickly arranged.
When we arrived at 834 Grove Street for the reception the house was literally packed. Two of the wittiest men anywhere to be found, our very close friends, Larry Harris and Charlie Field, both perfect raconteurs, made a voluntary contribution to our joy and happiness as toastmasters. That was the superb climax of the evening.
To say we lived happily ever after is too mild and prosaic. Since 1922 "my" life has changed to "we" and "us," with never a dull moment and never a disappointment. Both of us have known the career pattern and loved and lived our professions, but now they have been relegated to the avocation bracket, since we both know our real vocation is our marriage.
I, who know less about nautical affairs than anyone I can think of, had the unique experience of living and keeping house for a year on a battleship, the "U.S.S. Pueblo," Receiving Ship, tied up in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The next year saw us at Newport at the War College. Following this came New York again, where I took classes at Columbia. Then came the Philadelphia Navy Yard where Pete was Captain of the Yard. It was there in 1925 that he decided to retire. Pete held many discussions of this with his brothers, but since he is a person who makes his own decisions, I took part in none of them until he had definitely elected to retire. Then we moved to Paris for two years, where Pete represented his brothers' interests in Europe.
In 1927 we returned to America and after thinking about Maryland, Washington, and New York, decided that Marin County in California was the loveliest spot in the United States. We built a small house on the old Fay property in Kentfield, a replica of a very old, painted stone villa we once saw in Sorrento. All our European furniture, his from London days, mine from Munich, and ours from Paris, was packed into three enormous vans at our apartment on the Avenue du Bois in Paris and shipped to San Francisco. It was to accommodate these pieces that our home in Marin was planned. Actually the main "room" is the outside terrace with a bewitching view of my beloved Mt. Tamalpais, a source of inspiration ever since my girlhood days. There it stands unperturbed, majestic, a paean of praise to the Creator. Wars may come and wars may go but God and the peace of the mountain go on forever.
Pete and Maude Symington continued to divide their time between the Grove Street house and High Hat, their house in Kentfield until 1954. In that year the family decided to sell the Kentfield property; it had become too much for Maude to keep up. The Symingtons stayed at Grove Street until 1957. That was a sad year. In the spring Maude suffered a stroke and went to a hospital for the first time in her life. It was clear that she could no longer make the steep staircases in Grove Street nor give it the loving care she was accustomed to give. So Pete, aided by their niece, Molly Fay McGettigan, found an apartment on the corner of Broadway and Laguna Street, into which they moved as much as they could of the lovely European furnishings. Maude returned from the hospital to that apartment and loved it. She made an amazing recovery, owing largely to her own will power. However, in November, Pete had a serious attack, later diagnosed as a ruptured aorta, and after a week's illness, died on November 15th 1957 in St. Francis Hospital. Maude used to comment that in less than six months she had lost her health, her home, and her husband. Maude outlived Pete by almost seven years.
She remained astonishingly active in her favourite spheres of religion and music. In fact on the last day of her life, which was Pete's birthday, October 6, 1964, she had been to Mass and lunch with a friend, and to dinner in San Rafael planning to go to a concert at Dominican College. She fell, however, while leaving the restaurant, and was taken straight home. As she was about to get into bed she suffered a coronary attack, and died, apparently immediately and painlessly. She was 86 years old.
Her funeral was held at St. Brigid's church on October 9th. She was buried in the family plot in Holy Cross cemetery where she rests with her parents, five of her brothers and sisters, and most particularly, with her beloved Pete. May she rest in peace.