MISSOULA ~ Nancy Matthews, wife of a diplomat and ardent supporter of the arts in Missoula and internationally, passed away on Friday January 7th due to complications from a hip injury. Born Nancy Noel Henneberger December 24th, 1927, in Chambersburg, PA, she was the daughter of Thomas and Francis Henneberger of Chambersburg. Nancy was raised in Caldwell, NJ where her father worked as an engineer for Bell Telephone Company. She graduated from Connecticut College in 1949 and married Harrison Freeman Matthews, Jr (“Free”) in 1950.
Her husband joined the US Foreign Service in 1952, and over the ensuing 33 years Nancy and Free served in Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, and Egypt, as well their stateside home in Chevy Chase, MD. As the wife of a US diplomat, Nancy was witness to many historic events, most notably the diplomatic activity that led to the 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. Free’s last overseas posting was as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Cairo and they returned to Chevy Chase in 1980.
In 1983, Nancy joined the staff of Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit, nonpartisan diplomacy center that promotes international understanding. In 1992 she was appointed Vice President for Arts and Communication and then Vice President for Arts and Cultural Affairs. At Meridian International, Nancy directed the growth of Meridian’s international exhibitions program and the established their highly successful Traveling Exhibition Service. She organized major exhibitions from many countries, including Vietnam, South Africa, Iran and China, bringing them to the United States and sending them on tour throughout the U.S. She also organized exhibitions of American contemporary art which traveled abroad, including the acclaimed “True Colors” exhibit commemorating the tragic events of 9/11. Nancy had a passionate belief in art as a vehicle for furthering cultural understanding.
While at Meridian in 2005, Nancy collaborated with the Montana Museum of Art & Culture at the University of Montana to foster cultural exchange with China. "Ancient Threads, Newly Woven: Recent Art from China's Silk Road," a show of contemporary Chinese art, was brought to Missoula, followed by "Out West: The Great American Landscape," which featured various western artists. It opened in the United States at the Dana Gallery in Missoula and toured seven cities in China.
After the death of Freeman in 2006 and her retirement from Meridian International in 2008, Nancy re-located to Missoula, where she lived in the Linda Vista area. Nancy quickly immersed herself in the Missoula arts and international exchange communities. She was a strong supporter and board member of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theater, and the Montana World Affairs Council. She was also a supporter of the Montana Children’s Theater.
In 2012 Nancy organized a multi genre event entitled “China in Missoula,” a community wide collaborative project with eight of Missoula’s galleries and museums, several international programs at the University of Montana, the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre, the Roxy Theater, Southgate Mall, Missoula Public Library, the Montana World Affairs Council, and the Chinese Embassy Washington, DC.
In 2014 Nancy brought the Chinese Minister for Cultural Affairs to Missoula for a collaboration with the Missoula Children’s Theatre. In 2015 MCT took their production of “Princess and the Pea” to Beijing. MCT Directors directed Chinese children in the first ever English-speaking production. In 2016 Chinese national Theatre sent students to Missoula to perform with Missoula students.
Nancy was largely responsible for securing a significant collection of works from the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC that once belonged to Montana copper mogul Senator William Clark. For nearly three years, Nancy worked tirelessly with the Corcoran Trustees to ensure that Montana would receive a part of Clark’s legacy. In 2018, the MMAC successfully accessioned 9 of Clark’s European masterpieces. The Clark Collection, valued at over 9 million dollars, is priceless in terms of its educational and cultural value.
In recognition of Nancy’s many contributions to Montana’s art and culture, the Montana World Affairs Council recently awarded her the 2020 Cultural Ambassador Award. The citation read in part, “Nancy Matthews has had a career rich in travel, art, and diplomacy. She has played an important part in art and cultural exchanges. We are incredibly fortunate that Nancy decided to call Missoula home. She is an extraordinary woman of extraordinary talents.”
A prolific writer, Nancy published numerous articles on a variety of subjects related to art, history and culture. In 1979 while living in Cairo, Nancy launched “Cairo Today”, a magazine of arts and culture serving the international community in Egypt. The magazine has flourished since its inception and is now a popular forum for art, culture, fashion, and travel in the middle east with a circulation of over 14,000.
Nancy was gregarious by nature, and loved music, art, dogs, and entertaining. She is survived by her sons John Clinton Matthews of Irigny, France; Timothy Stirling Matthews of Leonardtown, MD; and daughter Elizabeth Matthews Johns of Missoula; ten grandchildren and a great-grandson. Her son Freeman Luke Matthews predeceased Nancy in 2007.
She also leaves behind her beloved dog Buddy.
There will be a Celebration of Life gathering from 2 until 4 p.m. Saturday, January 29, 2022 at the Dana Gallery, 246 N. Higgins Ave. in Missoula. Interment will be at St. Johns Church in Washington D.C. sometime in the spring.
The family requests rather than flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Humane Society of Western Montana at www.myhswm.org or Montana Museum of Arts and Culture at www.umt.edu/montanamuseum/ or to Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre www.rmbt.org or to the Missoula Children's Theatre at www.mctinc.org
Out beyond ideas
of right doing and wrong doing,
There is a field
I’ll meet you there
When the soul lies down in that grass
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other,
Does not make any sense.
Jelaluddin Rumi, 1205 – 1273