A skilled pianist, organist and singer with three degrees in music, Mrs. Tufts spent more than 60 years as the music director at several Washington-area churches. She often presented recitals and continued to work as an organist and choir director into her 90s.
In 1952, Mrs. Tufts ordered a set of 14 bells from the Whitechapel foundry in England after hearing a group of bell ringers in Boston.
“I thought that it was so beautiful,” she said in a video for the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, “and it would be such a splendid activity to add to my church program, because it is especially good for children — or for all people from 9 to 90.”
It took two years for the bells, each tuned to a different musical tone, to arrive in Washington. Within weeks, Mrs. Tufts trained a group of bell ringers and staged a holiday concert.
For the next 33 years, she led the Potomac English Handbell Ringers in performances throughout the region, including frequent performances at Washington National Cathedral, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and countless convalescent centers and retirement homes.
She led her groups on six tours to England, where the art of handbell ringing began, and often performed at the London foundry where her bells were made. In 1971, Mrs. Tufts and her bell ringers participated in events surrounding the opening of the Kennedy Center, and for 17 consecutive years they donned period costumes to ring in the new year at Colonial Williamsburg.
She and her group twice set world records for continuous bell ringing, topping out at 45 hours in 1981.
Mrs. Tufts wrote “The Art of Handbell Ringing” in the early 1960s and became a nationally recognized figure in the field. She arranged hundreds of pieces of music, from classical works to traditional folk songs, for handbell groups, launched competitions for composers and was a past president of what is now called the Handbell Musicians of America.
When Mrs. Tufts retired in 1987, her collection of bells had grown to contain nearly 80. Hundreds of people, most of them beginning as children, had performed in her groups.
“She’s been a great model to all of us,” Dixon Bell, who joined the Potomac bell ringers in 1964 at age 14, told The Washington Post in 2000. “She introduced us to classical music, fine art and feminism. She’s a real Renaissance woman.”
Nancy Narcissa Poore was born July 6, 1910, in London. Her father was a physician with the U.S. Army, and the family lived in the Philippines and China when Mrs. Tufts was a girl.