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Derek M. Mills with D. Kanzeg
Derek M. Mills with D. Kanzeg
The Original DoeHEAD

Derek M. Mills
August 7, 1942 - March 7, 1998

Derek Mills was the quintessential Doehead. He knew the opera The Ballad of Baby Doe by heart. He wrote passionately about it and about its special, he averred, place in American operatic literature. Indeed, in operatic literature generally.

He also took time out of his busy professional schedule (he taught human resource management and public administration, did private consulting, wrote articles and critiques) to see Baby Doe performances all over the country and to visit real-life Tabor sites.

His writings easily reveal his deep love for the Baby Doe story. Likewise his passion for the opera that the story inspired. His was a love that combined both an appreciation of the stage drama and a fascination with the real life story it depicts. But the two-act masterpiece composed by Douglas Moore and John Latouche (one of the most performed of any American opera), was not nearly as well known as Derek felt was its due.

This web site was his idea: a place for all those who might share the Baby Doe bug that so animated him. A site for the many friends, who, under Derek's captivating spell, clearly sensed the infecting Doemystique and its manifest joys. Derek knew of the opera's importance to American music, and never failed to regale a potential convert in the most persuasive, yet tender tones. He also knew how snugly the Tabor story fit into the fabric of the American being, and was willing to go on record to argue for what he and a few others took to calling "the great American epic tale." In the telling, the opera became a kind of elaborate visual aid toward a deeper understanding of American history and culture.

But of all the items in the Doe oeuvre--a play, a musical, two operas, a movie--Moore's Ballad was the rallying point for trueblue, self-confessed Doeheads like Derek Mills. No grand Germanic Ring, this "honky tonk" epic. Nor tense Russian Boris. Nor noble Italian Nabucco. Nor even is it a precious Porgy, with its hybrid theatrical feet firmly planted in at least two separate musical genres. This opera--this "unabashedly listenable" Doe--is nothing less than the signature American classic tragicomedy, encompassing the frequently exaggerated scope of our national vision along with the often irreconcilable contradictions of our individual character. Derek set out to draw attention to this American Odyssey and the lessons it leaves for the ages.

In the spring of 1998, Derek Mills died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage in Anchorage, Alaska, while on a consulting trip for an Alaska Natives health care organization. He was fifty-five years old. The date of his death--March 7th--is the same date on which the historical Baby Doe Tabor's body was found, frozen to death, on the floor of her cabin in Leadville in 1935. It is an irony he would, no doubt, have greatly appreciated.