A fond farewell
Peter Marzio's private memorial is a celebration of an "astounding" career
With solemn respect, minimal fanfare and an overwhelming turnout of Houston notables, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston bid formal farewell to Peter Marzio in an invitation-only program Sunday night at the museum. Marzio died of cancer last month, a surprise to many who had no idea that he was gravely ill.
"A Remembrance of Peter C. Marzio" reflected on the man, who in his 28 years at the helm, transformed the MFAH from a quaint city art museum into a world-class institution. None of the six speakers said it more effectively than Philippe de Montebello, MFAH director from 1969 to 1973 and director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from 1977 to 2008, who noted, "The transformation in Peter's service has been no less than astounding."
Marzio was not born a Houstonian, de Montebello told the gathering of approximately 750, but he became a Houstonian and "in pygmalion-like fashion breathed life into the museum."
The Brown auditorium, which seats 350, was filled to near capacity and Cullinan Hall held the overflow crowd that numbered close to 400. In an effort to keep the memorial truly private, per family wishes, guests names were checked by museum staff as they entered the door. Following the hour-long program, orchestrated by the family, guests were invited to a reception in the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Galleries of the Audrey Jones Beck Building.
MFAH board chair Cornelia Long led the tribute, ticking off Marzio's multitude of accomplishments from the various exhibitions and acquisitions to the opening of new areas of interest, including the Arts of India gallery and the remarkable gunpowder installation of artist Cai Guo-Qiang.
MFAH trustee Rich Kinder followed with a recounting of the physical growth of the museum under Marzio's stewardship. He also spoke to Marzio's zest for life — his love of skiing and hiking in the mountains of Aspen, his love of fly-fishing and his passion for jogging at least 4 miles each day until cancer interrupted his routine.
Legendary trial attorney and Marzio close friend and traveling companion Joe Jamail interjected with his view of Marzio as a personal friend.
In closing, Frances Marzio gave brief and reserved remarks thanking, on behalf of herself and of Marzio's two children from a previous marriage, Sara and Steven, those who spoke and those who attended.
Among them was Mayor Annise Parker who praised the evening as "a beautiful memorial." She and Minnette Boesel, the Mayor's assistant for cultural affairs, were among VIPS in the auditorium. Tony and Isaac Arnold, the MFAH board chair who brought Marzio to Houston, past board chair Isabel Wilson and husband Wallace and Clare Glassell, widow of the late Alfred C. Glassell Jr., past board chair and personal Marzio friend were present.
To name all the notables in the gathering would take more space than even the Internet allows but a few included Michelle and Frank Hevrdjes, Carol and Mike Linn, Ginger and Jack Blanton, Nidhika and Pershant Mehta, Barbara and Corbin Robertson, Martha Long, Meredith Cullen, Anne and Charles Duncan, Brenda and John Duncan, Houston Grand Opera's Anthony Freud, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston director Bill Arning, Sarah and Bill Morgan, John Daugherty and Diane Lokey Farb, who has been instrumental in helping Frances Marzio deal with her loss.
While the evening was for the most part dry of tears, there were those moved once again at the loss of Peter Marzio, including his friend (and my husband) Shafik Rifaat who remarked, "I will truly miss his mischievous smile and his wicked sense of humor."
The common refrain throughout the reception was the question of who could possibly fill Peter Marzio's shoes. Indeed.