BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The Chicago Branch of the English-Speaking Union and Dottie Pattishall, Honorary Chair of its Ascot Ball (taking place June 11), have a few delightful things in common: both turn 95 this year and both are legendary for celebrating significant accomplishments in the most glamorous manner.
To see Dottie in her 1952 MG, driven by daughter Lyssa Piette, waving to friends on the by-roads of Lakeside, Michigan, you can see why a spectacular smile and a totally positive attitude make age something to celebrate.
As the ESU moves towards its 100th birthday, the board has shown its own positive attitude with its impressive goal of 100 scholarships in during 100th year. Long a tradition in Chicago, the Ascot Ball celebrates its Shakespeare competition for inner city students and raises funds for both teachers and students to study abroad.
An over 40-year member of the ESU, Dottie points out that Chicago organizations, such as the ESU, bring on junior groups to make sure that they go forward into the next century. At the Ascot Ball, junior board members join in the dancing, desserts, and gaming, creating a wide age spectrum beneficial to all – something Dottie cherishes.
“When young people ask my philosophy of life, I tell them its simple: move it or lose it. I started skiing in Telluride in 1956, when it was an undeveloped village, and skied there into my 80s. I will be dancing to my favorite, Stanley Paul, at the Ascot. I have been lucky to enjoy the glamour that is Chicago over the years. I love how younger and older groups blend at the Ascot, it really is an encouragement for the future.”
At ESU balls and other formal occasions, Dottie would be the elegantly dressed guest with the camera in hand. Her daughter Lyssa says her mother used her champagne glass as a tripod, balancing her camera on it as she snapped photos of friends. Dottie knew everyone in the room and stopped to talk as she captured their photos.
Dottie serves as a great recruiter for the ESU – just ask real estate executive Jim Kinney:
“When I was attending my first Ascot Ball oh so many years ago, I saw the last two people on the dance floor at the end of the evening were Bev and Dottie Pattishall. He was very dapper in his pink coat and Dottie was gracefully being guided across the floor to the tunes of Stanley Paul. I thought that I must join an organization that had such a good time and appealed to members of all ages! She has never stopped dancing. One night years ago, at a nice gala, Brian White was dancing with a joyous Dottie, when she exclaimed: ‘I just love dancing! I think I will die on the dance floor,’ to which Brian firmly replied, ‘Not tonight, Dottie.’”
She and Lyssa are currently assembling her collection of photos of Ascot Balls over the past decades. Dottie’s eyes light up as she describes her memories and sightings of visiting dignitaries such as Prince Charles in the mid-1970s.
“Many of the early balls were held at the Buttery at the Ambassador West, and people were always very elegantly dressed in white tie and tails. We would adjourn to the Pump Room for a nightcap afterwards, where there seemed to be waiters in white plumes and turbans everywhere.”
Where you see Dottie, you see Lyssa, who once owned a popular Harbor Country shop close to their home in Lakeside. Lyssa first sold cashmere sweaters from Ireland, where she had spent time as a student. Later, she added the tagline “a bit of a curiosity shop,” because of the variety of gifts she began to stock. She requested that her mom not help with sales because Dottie’s gift of conversation often impeded people from examining the wares.
“We have made the transition where I help look after Mom and plan our schedule instead of vice versa, and I just try to keep up with her. I have to find ways to fit everything she wants to do on her calendar.”
Born in Milwaukee, Dottie married her first husband, Vojta Frank Mashek, in 1943. His grandfather came to Chicago in 1860, founding the Pilsen Lumber Company. The newly married couple moved to Chicago and lived at 1320 North State Parkway, where they enjoyed a marvelous lake vista before the arrival of high rises impeded their view. Lyssa, then a student at the Latin School, recalled weekends in Three Oaks, Michigan, where her father collected vintage cars of the 1930s.
Following the death of her first husband, Dottie married Beverly Pattishall, a dashing athlete who loved to ride with the hounds in Barrington and dance every dance at an Ascot Ball. Lyssa fondly remembers purchasing elegant gold buttons for his pink riding coat in Ireland.
ESU President Courtney Pitt can’t wait to toast Dottie – as well as the Queen! – at the Ascot Ball.
“We chose Dottie as our honoree because she has had an incredible past with the ESU. During our 95 years, we have had three sitting United States Presidents serve as national chairmen and numerous celebrities, socialites, and members of the royalty have been involved in our events. Dottie has met many of these dignitaries and has been the socialite you have seen on the dance floor at every great party since the 1940s. She is generous, kind, and humble. My favorite thing is when Dottie is talking to friends in their 60s or 70s and says, ‘Oh, you young people are too young to understand,’ and they all start laughing. No one has called them ‘too young’ in quite a while. It is such a privilege to know her and have her represent the ESU as our 95th honoree.”
For further information on the Ascot Ball, contact the English-Speaking Union at (312) 772-3782 or Chicago@esuus.org.