Nan Cullman, singer, explorer and wife of the retired vice chairman of Philip Morris, Hugh Cullman, died following a stroke on Monday, May 18, at her home in Pittsboro, North Carolina. She was 85.
Born in Smithfield, North Carolina in 1929, Mrs. Cullman began a singing career at the age of 15 when she won a scholarship in a statewide competition to attend the Julliard School in New York. She also studied at Columbia University and the University of Heidelberg in Germany. She performed throughout her life with regional opera companies and choral societies. Her favorite role was Fiordiligi from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte that she performed for the Westchester Opera Company.
In 1951, Mrs. Cullman married Hugh Cullman, son of Broadway ‘angel’ and Port Authority Chairman, Howard S. Cullman, and made her home in Westchester County, New York for the next 40 years. She was active with civic organizations, serving on the board of Youth Consultation Service of New York, the vestry of Christ’s Church, Rye and as a volunteer working in the recovery room at United Hospital in Port Chester, New York. She was also a long term board member of the North Carolina Symphony.
In her 40s, Mrs. Cullman took up mountaineering and other extreme travel pursuits, riding camels with the Tuareg tribe through the Hoggar Mountains of southern Algeria, climbing to the Everest base camps from both the Nepalese and Tibetan sides and obtaining one of the first visas to hike through Bhutan. She almost lost her life on Everest, when she was blinded and at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro where she was overcome by altitude sickness. According to her daughter, Alexandra Haslingden, “Long before Sheryl Sandberg challenged women to lean in, my mother was jumping in.” As recently as 2013, she was hiking in the Dolomites and this year was planning an expedition to the Highlands of Scotland.
In 1993 Mrs. Cullman and her husband moved to Beaufort, NC and subsequently to Pittsboro, NC.
Mrs. Cullman is survived by her husband Hugh Cullman as well as her three children, Katherine Hedges of London, England, Hugh Cullman Jr. of Rye, New York, and Alexandra Haslingden of Sydney, Australia, her sisters Lu Long Medlin of Smithfield, N.C. and Gail Flynt of Eden, N.C. and her brother, Jasper Victor Ogburn of Smithfield, as well as nine grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at St. Paul’s Church in Beaufort on Wednesday, May 27 at 11:00 am. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the North Carolina Community Foundation, the North Carolina Symphony or St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Beaufort, NC.