Encore Michigan

A tribute to Detroit Rep co-founder Dee Andrus

Feature May 26, 2017

By Tom Emmott

DETROIT—We in the theatre world lost a great pioneer last Saturday. Dee Andrus was an inspiration to all of us who worked with her over the years, participated as an audience member, ate her homemade cookies and soups, or just plain knew her as a friend. If you were one of her children, then you experienced her love for you. Somehow I can’t help thinking that we were all Dee’s children.

Dee was one of the founders of the Detroit Repertory Theatre along with her husband Rip (T.O Andrus), Bruce Milan, and Barbara Busby. Together, they created one of the most special and influential theatre’s in all of Michigan. If you lived in the neighborhood…then the Rep was “your” theatre. If you worked there it was “your” theatre.

I first met Dee in 1967 in a production of Oklahoma…my very first Musical. Dee was the choreographer. I was a member of the chorus and Dee seemed to take a liking to me. Before long my chorus role grew because Dee gave me some lines to speak and then advanced me to a featured dancer. I danced the role of Judd in the Dream Ballet. From that day forward, whenever Dee would introduce me to someone new, she would always say, “Tom was one of my featured dancers in Oklahoma.” Many is the time that a select bunch of us from the Oklahoma cast were invited to Dee and Rip’s home for her delicious beef stroganoff. That woman could really cook!

Dee remained one of my dearest friends for all these years afterword. We performed together at the Rep, we worked together in the film Hoffa, and we never lost touch.

When I was living and performing in Minneapolis, I would trek over to Wisconsin and visit Bruce and Dee on her farm. Those are fond memories. I would go with them to play golf. They played and I drove the cart. Bruce would cook fabulous dinners on the big fireplace grill in the backyard and sometimes we would drive back to Minneapolis to see a show at the Guthrie. And, of course, Dee would drag me to church on Sunday’s so we could sing along with the choir.

I can and always will see that smiling face with the word “sweetie” coming from her lips. Her favorite term of endearment.

Just a few words about the Visitation, church service and luncheon afterward. It was a beautiful ceremony that included a vocal choir and a hand bell choir. Dee would have been so proud. The Minister gave a touching sermon that was a real tribute to Dee. The luncheon was wonderful. It was good to see her daughter DeeDee and her husband Tom along with her son Sean. They all took such wonderful care of Dee the past several years. Her son Gabe and his wife Mary had also been in town prior.

The Reverend blessed our meal. Joy, a good friend of Dee’s and the family, got up and spoke. She had her own beautiful thoughts as well as notes to share from the family. After that, the Rep’s very own Kenny got up and spoke. He had warm wonderful words to say about Dee, including that she was like a mother to him.

Dee worked tirelessly as a teacher, a Rep founder, a talented actor, director, and choreographer, a chorale director and chef. I can’t say enough about her. She was a beautiful woman and to know her was to love her.

I loved Dee and I always will. And I will miss her dearly.