A woman who devoted her life to upholding the culture of the Virgin Islands died Dec. 5 at the age of 90. Dorothy Elskoe, known to all as Dotsy, was remembered by some of her dearest a few days after her death.
Daughters Sandy Elskoe and Lori Elskoe-Rollins and singer Yvette Finch – a childhood friend of the daughters – laughed and smiled as they recalled Elskoe in the last days of 2019. After all, they said, Christmas was her time of year.
They told the story of a leader, who displayed her enthusiasm for tradition and culture by getting involved at the start of new ideas.
Born on Jan 26, 1929, she was the daughter of Alfred Lockhart Jr., and Elmira Lockhart (nee Levy), the second of four children.
“My mom was always interested, always thought that family was important but culture was important as well,” said Lori. When radio host Ron de Lugo called for the revitalization of Carnival in 1952, Dorothy Elskoe made her way into the organizing meeting.
And when she came, she came to stay, helping to shape the Virgin Islands Carnival Committee and jumping into the band. Her life in the festival arts on the road began with the Mandaloo Bryan Carnival Troupe, followed by the Elskoe Labeet Troupe.
By the time the 1960s rolled around, Dotsy teamed up with Ector Roebuck to form the Elskoe Roebuck Troupe. That association had a lasting impact, creating what would later be known as a Carnival Floupe – combining floats and a troupe.
By the 1990s Elskoe and Associates conquered the road with the largest troupe, topping 500 members. In between the sections of lavishly costumed performers rolled floats and live bands on decorated flatbeds.
At the side of the road stood Dotsie – tall, slim and elegant, dressed in regalia from head to toe, reviewing her troupe with the calm gaze of a general. Both Elskoe-Roebuck and Elskoe and Associates took their extravaganzas abroad, appearing in cultural parades in New York, Florida, and Atlanta. As the head of the Committee to Revive Our Culture, Elskoe, Roebuck and troupe members worked with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to represent the Virgin Islands at the Festival of American Folklife on the National Mall in 1991.
“She just loved it. It was her world, Carnival and Christmas,” Lori said.
At Christmastime, Elskoe’s leadership emerged again as she founded a choir to raise their voices at the annual Challenge of the Carols at Emancipation Garden. The daughters recalled stories of the mother joining house-to-house serenades on St. Thomas, lasting through the night on Christmas Eve.
“She would tell us about the serenading to different houses. I think that the Challenge of the Carols came from that,” Lori said.
Finch recalled how her childhood friend, Sherry Elskoe, joined her mother in the bandstand in the garden to sing carols of the season on Christmas morning.
“She was always been with the Christmas, she’s always been a part with the caroling. And their caroling group is over 50 years,” Finch said.
At home for the holidays, she welcomed guests with dishes of souse, baked treats and dishes she learned in her mother’s kitchen from the days when her name was Dorothy Lockhart.
“My fondest memory of my mom was always welcoming people to our house. Everybody, anybody could come. And when they were leaving she would always say, ‘You’re going already?’” Lori said.
Those gatherings provided opportunities for discussions of politics, which Lori said her mother also loved. Many of those associations formed turned into fond memories.
The well-worn covers of the Charlotte Amalie High School Class of 1949 year book gives evidence of Elskoe’s esteem for the people in her life, from her early days. Her daughter said her mother would pull out the year book to reflect on the names of classmates Albert O. Heath, Samuel Morch, Earl Wheatley, Harvey Larsen, Norman Jeppsen, Alrick Roberts, Noreen Nelthropp and others.
In that yearbook, Dotsy Elskoe inscribed her motto: “Pleased with All the World.” And in the end, daughter Sandy declared her mother had lived, “a life of love and fun.”