Some called him “Uncle Edgar” because of his genial nature and generous sense of giving.
Over decades, Edgar Foster Daniels underwrote theater, music and opera productions for the Santa Fe Opera and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and donated to the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and St. Vincent Hospital Foundation.
And that was just in Santa Fe.
Daniels, whose financial contributions through his foundation to arts organizations throughout New Mexico earned him a 2015 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and the thanks of many in the community, died July 31 of natural causes.
He was 88.
Those who knew him said Daniels always possessed a giving spirit, one fostered by his own personal participation in theater as a performer.
“He was a deeply committed music lover, and that’s really what drove his involvement and support with these opera companies,” said Robert Meya, general director of the Santa Fe Opera.
He said Daniels was “one of the most generous supporters of the Santa Fe Opera in its entire history.”
Daniels, scion of the family that owned the News & Observer Publishing Co. in North Carolina, was born in 1932. He knew from childhood he wanted to be a performer, Daniels said in a 2012 interview with The New Mexican. He initially attended the University of North Carolina to study theater.
“Here I was, 17, playing Caliban,” Daniels said, referring to the character in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. “You don’t learn how to act that way. I went to Columbia [University] where I stayed for four years and learned something.”
Daniels continued acting on stage and, after moving to California, appeared in television shows including Bonanza and The High Chaparral.
“When you go to California, you start out in Westerns,” he later recalled of the period. “I belonged in Westerns about as much as I belonged in musicals.”
But he did perform in musicals, including a production of The Beggar’s Opera and as Frosch in Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus in 1982 at the Santa Fe Opera.
Daniels befriended John Crosby, the opera’s founder and director, and over time Daniels’ foundation began providing financial support to the organization.
The money for Daniels’ foundation came after his family sold its newspaper holdings.
“I wanted to put it [the inheritance] to use in something that would be of service forever,” he said in 2012. “My family still doesn’t understand it, but that’s their problem.”
Daniels moved to Santa Fe in the late 1970s or early 1980s and began donating to the Santa Fe Opera with a production of Daphne in the 1980s. As of 2015, he had given more than $2 million to the opera.
“I really doubt there’s anyone else in the world who has supported opera so widely and so generously,” former Santa Fe Opera General Director Charles MacKay said of Daniels in 2012. “He is one of a kind, without any doubt.”
Nationally, Daniels’ foundation also underwrote productions at major opera companies, from the Metropolitan Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago to the Houston Grand Opera and the San Francisco Opera.
Meya said Daniels had underwritten at least one show each season for the Santa Fe Opera over the past two decades. And he showed up at least once for every production.
“His legacy will live on here at the opera,” Meya said.
Winnie Klotz, who worked as the official photographer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City for over 25 years, described Daniels as “quite a character. … He had a great sense of humor. We were always laughing — usually at somebody else’s expense.”
Klotz said Daniels liked dogs, needlepoint, Champagne and fine dining. But his real love, she said, was opera singers.
“They were like gods to him,” she said.
Daniels, who is survived by three cousins, will be buried in the family plot in Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, N.C.