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Remembering Hazel Hough, who helped create the Palladium Theater

Paul Wilborn

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Paul Wilborn, left, with Bill and Hazel Hough. Photo provided.

One of the joys of being part of the Palladium was getting to spend lots of time with two of our founders, Bill and Hazel Hough.

I am saddened to write that Hazel has left us. I can’t believe I won’t be seeing her in her favorite seat, stage left at the top of our center staircase, this coming season. It is a season filled with shows Hazel would love, and we plan to dedicate our 2019-20 season to her.

It was she who first walked into what was then a Christian Science Church on 5th Avenue North and reported back to Bill that she’d found the building they needed for the community theater venture that eventually became the Palladium. Hazel wasn’t just an art patron, but a visionary. She and Bill realized after new performing arts centers were built in the community, that our local arts organizations and local performers needed their own place to perform that was professional and affordable. She was at the heart of a group of citizens who came together to make that venue a reality.

That’s why our main theater is called Hough Hall.

Once the Palladium opened in 1998, she was a regular audience member. She was last here in late May for a Florida Orchestra concert. Even though getting to her seat was a challenge for her weakened legs, she was always happy to be here.  She told me in the early days she and Bill were often called in to bolster an otherwise small audience.’

We haven’t had to call Bill and Hazel to fill seats for a long time. But I loved it when they came out for a show.

I also was lucky enough to visit with them at meetings, at lunches, at their Bayfront Tower apartment, and most recently at Westminster, their retirement community.

No matter how she was feeling – and moving around wasn’t easy for her in recent years – Hazel never lost her loving spirit and her mega-watt smile. She always wanted to know how my family and I were doing.

I met Bill and Hazel before taking the job at the Palladium. My journalism professor and mentor, Don Baldwin, and his wife Pat, had included Eugenie and me in dinner parties at their home, and the Houghs were among the guests. She loved the songs of the Great American Songbook – she was a good singer herself – and it was fun playing and singing for her. I was asked to coordinate music for the opening of the Hazel Hough Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts soon after taking my job here. I made sure there was a grand piano available, and asked Hazel what song she wanted to hear.

“I love ‘Body and Soul,’” she told me. I learned it – and let me tell you it’s not an easy song to do – and made sure she was at the piano when I played it.

Hazel, as always, was smiling and complimentary. She brought the best old-school southern charm to her life. And she shared that with all the people who were lucky enough to cross her path.

We’ve achieved a lot at the Palladium during the past 12 years, but my proudest moment was when Hazel told me that of all the things she and Bill had supported, the Palladium was the closest to their heart.

“And you’ve made it into the place we always hoped it would be,” she said.

And then she smiled, and her smile lit up the room.

Speaking for everyone at the Palladium and St. Petersburg College, we say farewell to our dear friend Hazel Hough and send our sympathies and best wishes to her family.

Paul Wilborn is executive director of the Palladium Theater.

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