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Epilogue: Hazel Hough transformed St. Petersburg through giving

Hazel Hough, left, and her niece Cindy Starnes mingle after the art parade that preceded the grand opening of the Hazel Hough wing of the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts. LARA CERRI | Times (2008)]
Published Aug. 4

ST. PETERSBURG — Institutions will forever bear the name of Hazel Hough, who helped transform the city with her charitable giving.

But just as she underwrote the halls of creative expression, Mrs. Hough, who died Saturday at 92, filled the air around her with her own distinctive voice.

Mrs. Hough, with her husband William at her side, lived a life dedicated to giving back. She and her family donated tens of millions of dollars to Florida institutions: The University of Florida, St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts, the Salvador Dali Museum, Canterbury School and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg — to name a few.

But Mrs. Hough was no disinterested benefactor. She engaged actively and passionately with the groups she supported. Decades before Bill Hough donated enough money to get his wife's name on an entire wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Mrs. Hough was a volunteer.

She especially liked to give tours to children, her daughter, Susan Hough Henry, remembered.

"My mother was a true example to the community," Henry said.

When the Houghs endowed a new chair of USF St. Petersburg's Florida Studies department, Mrs. Hough took it upon herself to sit in on classes.

Henry laughed as she recalled her octogenarian mother poring over 16th-century Spanish.

Hazel Lamar Clarkson was born in Miami in 1927. She grew up in Fort Myers, a city that, at the time, had no museums, she once told the Tampa Bay Times.

She tried to give her hometown a little artistic flair. With a couple of friends, she started a singing group, the Swing Triplets, her son Robb Hough said.

In high school, Mrs. Hough also worked for the local newspaper as a student writer, Henry said. Her passion for journalism would carry into her college years at Florida State College for Women, where she'd major in the field. She graduated in 1949. (While she was in attendance, the school became coeducational and was renamed Florida State University.)

One fateful day, Hazel Clarkson went on a blind date in Fort Myers with Bill Hough. Their romance was a plot hatched by relatives.

The plot eventually worked. They married in 1951.

They had three children together: Robb, the eldest, Susan and Helen, the youngest.

Robb Hough remembered the way his mother would fill his childhood home with piano music. She loved Gershwin.

Susan Hough Henry recalled the way her mom evangelized Florida history. Most every Christmas or birthday, her children could count on receiving a new volume.

Helen Feinberg reflected on her mother's thank you notes.

"She was the best writer of thank you notes that ever lived," Feinberg said.

In 1962, her husband founded a municipal bond firm in St. Petersburg, William R. Hough & Co. As the company grew, Mrs. Hough became involved in that, too. She took over its community relations division, bringing her trademark zeal to charitable outreach.

The kids eventually took over the family businesses as their parents aged, and in 2004, William R. Hough & Co. was sold to Royal Bank of Canada for an undisclosed sum.

But the Houghs remained active. After the new owners took over, Bill still worked at the family business. Robb said his parents traveled all over the world together: to Istanbul, the nation of Georgia — even a village in Nepal high in the Himalayas. That last trip happened when the couple was in their 80s.

"We were stunned that they did it," Robb said.

Through the years, the family has stayed together in the kids' hometown of St. Petersburg.

The final years of Mrs. Hough's life were defined by her giving. In 2007, she and her husband gave $30 million to the University of Florida's Warrington College of Business. That gift came just days after a separate donation — $3 million to the Palladium Theater endowment fund.

In 2012, the couple gave another $2 million to the Museum of Fine Arts, which a half decade earlier had named a wing after Hazel.

"She was genuinely joyful, a positive presence at the museum, and endlessly gracious," said Kristen Shepherd, the museum's executive director. "She led by example in supporting the museum and the entire arts community."

Mrs. Hough is survived by her husband, Bill; her children Robb, Susan and Helen; and her grandchildren Will, Bonnie, Mansie, Michael and Alexandra.

A funeral service and celebration of life reception will be held for Mrs. Hough at The Cathedral Church of St. Peter Aug. 17 at 10 a.m.

Contact Kirby Wilson at kwilson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.

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