Thrift-shop dress a fitting memorial to Summer Shipp

October 2007

Special to The Star

I woke up in Los Angeles today with several messages about Summer Shipp in my inbox. It’s a very sad day. And it has been especially hard being away from you all during the years since her disappearance. It feels terribly lonely to deal with this, unable to gather and hug one another.

The last time Summer and I were together, I was in Kansas City. We were swimming and talking in my friend’s pool. Summer was wearing one of those ’60s swimming caps with the plastic flower petals that jiggle with every movement. I hadn’t seen one of those in decades, and it took me back to my childhood with summers spent at the pool, without a care in the world.

I scolded her for not returning my voice-mail messages and making me worry about her. Then she told me that her mother had died and that she had been back in Illinois. We talked about our mothers and how you’re never really prepared for the experience of losing them.



Summer could swim long after I ran out of steam, so I stood and studied her freestyle technique. I watched that dance between the floral design in her suit and her hat, and marveled at her ability to balance form and fashion function — even under water.

I had previously shown Summer a “show stopping” floral summer dress and jacket ensemble that I had bought for $35 at the Junior League thrift store. She loved it so much that we decided to share it. Then we got a crazy idea to go to a big social/fundraising function together. Would we “premiere it” at Warren Buffett’s event or at the opening of the Veterans Memorial? Whatever the function, one of us would wear it for the first half, then switch clothes so that other one could have fun watching reactions and create some talk.

Then we took our barnstorming one step further and decided to sell shares of the outfit to other women for $5 each, and have them showing up all over town for all sorts of summertime functions. And Summer already had fabulous accessories in mind for it.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, she declared that I was “the most creative person she had ever known.” I was dumbfounded, because she knows every creative person in Kansas City. But it was a typical Summer statement — giving someone else the credit and starlight for something she clearly collaborated on at the highest level.

Today, upon receiving the news that she was found in the waters of Little Blue River, I wish I had asked Brandy, Summer’s daughter, to save that dress. I had never really wanted to bother her with what seemed like a trivial request while she was spearheading the campaign to find her mother. But now I see that I could have kept Summer’s spirit alive in many social circles and at many gatherings for years to come. It could have been known as “the Summer Dress.”

It’s the kind of outfit, and she was the kind of woman, who made you smile from the moment she walked in the room until she made her exit.

M.L. Bass sent this letter to friends upon learning this week that the remains of Summer Shipp had been found. Bass lived in Kansas City before relocating to Los Angeles. She is a writer and producer.