George Wellington / 1916-2002

Music teacher sparked
student talents

See also: Obituaries

By Russ Lynch

Singer Karen Keawehawaii remembers her first day of school at Kalakaua Middle School years ago when the music teacher, George Wellington, asked the kids to pick an instrument from pictures he showed them.

"I thought I was signing up for a viola. I got a cello," a very big item to lug to and from school. Even though she was never proficient, Wellington stuck by her and kept her going in music, she said.

"I wasn't good, but he was just so patient. He touched so many lives," Keawehawaii said. Those lives probably run into the thousands, given music classes he taught at Kalakaua and later Kamehameha Schools, and the hundreds of private pupils over the years that he helped learn the bass, cello or violin.

He was teaching students at Punahou Schools only two weeks before he went into a care home in May.

George C. Wellington, of Kaneohe, died Wednesday, a day short of his 86th birthday. A classical bass player, he had come to Hawaii in 1956 to be principal bassist with the Honolulu Symphony. Those were the days when the players had to have a day job to get by, and his was teaching.

He loved all music and was not averse to plucking his bass with a jazz group now and again.

His students say Wellington taught them about the tonal quality of music, how to listen to what they were playing and get the best sound they could.

They made it to the highest levels in local competitions, and many went on to play with the Honolulu Symphony or orchestras on the mainland. His own son George became a bassist with the New York Philharmonic.

Dale Bechtel, a retired violinist and teacher who came to Hawaii in the early 1950s to be concertmaster of the symphony, worked with Wellington in the orchestra and alongside him at Kalakaua.

"He was a virtuoso teacher. He wasn't a virtuoso player, but he turned out some spectacular students, and he was a really nice guy," Bechtel said.

Wellington was born in Boston and graduated from Boston English High. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Bard College in Annandale, N.Y., and a master's at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

At Bard he met a visiting Japanese student, Taeko, and they were married and later moved to Hawaii, which Wellington liked to say was a convenient halfway point between his home and hers in Japan.

During World War II, he played in the U.S. Marine Corps Band.

He also had a lifelong commitment to the Young Men's Christian Association. He often said he would never have gone to college and to postgraduate studies if it had not been for the help and encouragement the "Y" gave him as a youngster.

He was an active member of the Windward Y's Men's & Women's Club, a service organization that supported the Windward YMCA through fund-raisers and volunteer work.

Wellington is survived by sons George and Sam; daughters Fumiko, Yuriko and Haruko; two grandchildren; and two sisters. His wife, Taeko, died in 1993.

Services will be at 2 p.m. next Saturday at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Kailua, with visitation from 1 p.m.

Fumiko Wellington said the family hopes that local bassists will show up with their instruments to help send him off.

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