Many years ago, when her son was just a boy, Dorothy Farnon would walk around San Francisco giving money to almost every homeless person she passed.
Her son, Mike Farnon, would stand by shyly as she gave the transients an earful with each $20 bill.
“She’d say, ‘now you make sure you get this dog some food,” Mike Farnon said of his oftenly frank mother.
Dorothy Farnon, a well-known animal lover and philanthropist in South Lake Tahoe, died Jan. 3 after spending the majority of her life giving to charities and people in need.
She led the life of a dancer, singer and musician, but will perhaps be most remembered by the community for her many fundraising efforts for various South Shore organizations, Mike Farnon said.
“I think they’re going to miss her truthfulness and her generosity,” he said.
From an early age, Dorothy Farnon was pushed by her mother to pursue dance, gymnastics and music lessons in Chicago.
She eventually grew up to write the alma mater for her university, and became a dancer at the Chez Paree — a popular Chicago nightclub.
On any given night, she could be seen performing alongside Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis Jr., Mike Farnon said. She even dated Joey Bishop, a member of the Rat Pack, for some time.
Her dancing career continued after moving to Los Angeles, where she performed at the Moulin Rouge.
“She was an amazing woman and amazingly athletic,” Mike Farnon said. “Lots of sports. Lots of talents.”
Dorothy Farnon moved to South Lake Tahoe with her family in 1967. She kept up dancing and performing, and decided to open a dance studio inside her own house.
Longtime South Shore resident Patty Olson met Dorothy Farnon the day she moved into town.
“She was wonderful,” Olson said. “Very outgoing.”
Almost immediately, Dorothy Farnon began supporting a variety of South Shore organizations. Some of them included Barton Memorial Hospital, Heavenly Valley Ski Foundation, the Boys & Girls Club of Lake Tahoe and local theater groups.
Her fundraising efforts were entertaining, and quickly gained her a reputation, Olson said.
“It’s one thing to fundraise,” she said, “and another to make it fun.”
Perhaps her most popular charity event was “Ebenezer Scrooge,” an annual fundraiser for Barton Memorial Hospital and the Barton Foundation. The play — which she wrote lyrics for, choreographed and partially directed — ran at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe from 1982 through the early 2000s.
Mike Farnon said it was an extremely popular event.
“People would come from all over California to watch that,” he said.
Dorothy Farnon’s philanthropy efforts eventually won her the title of Humanitarian of the Year by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society in 1996.
A gala was held in May that same year to honor her dedication to the community, according to an article in the Tahoe Daily Tribune archives.
“Farnon’s characteristic persistence, demand for perfection and sense of fun continues to influence many Lake Tahoe residents, past and present,” the 1996 article read.
During the last year of her life, Dorothy Farnon experienced heart problems, Mike Farnon said. But it was hard to notice in her day-to-day life.
Eventually, however, she died of natural causes, shortly after seeing her family and friends on Christmas.
“She had great closure,” he said. “She didn’t get to see it coming, but she got to see all of her family and friends before she went.”
Mike Farnon said his mother talked about death when she thought she was going to die a few years ago.
“She said, ‘you know what I’m going to miss the most?” he said, “’I’m going to miss the music.’”