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Hugh Johnston Hubbard

Died: November 15, 2013

For Hugh Johnston (Butch) Hubbard, Yale was a family tradition — both his father and older brother having attended; and Butch loved his years at Yale and the innumerable friends he made there. He worked on the Yale Political and was a member of Zeta Psi and the Elizabethan Club, among other things.

After graduation he worked for a New York City Assemblyman for two years, until the Assemblyman lost a tough reelection campaign. After that Butch turned to the arts, which had always been a part of his life. He had grown up attending Chicago’s Lyric Opera and loved performances at the Metropolitan Opera, particularly relishing its performances of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. A history of art major at Yale, he loved art and later became an extensive collector of art. When the Assemblyman lost reelection, Butch went to work as assistant to the director of The Cloisters Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for two years and then moved to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City, again as assistant to the director, where he worked from 1972 through 1977. Of these experiences he would later write, “I feel very blessed to have been able to work at two of the greatest museums in the world and to have been able to be involved with some of the greatest collections and art historians in the world.”

Theater was another love, and when offered the opportunity to become involved in theater producing, he seized it. He got involved co-producing the Broadway musical Eubie in 1978, and he stayed involved in producing plays on and off Broadway, in Boston, London and even South America, until he retired. “I’ve had some financial and critical successes,” he said, “and a lot of failures.” Critical successes would certainly include the revivals of “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying,” “Chicago,” and “Guys and Dolls,”which won him and co-producers the Tony Award in 1992.

His experience with the theatrical production taught him a good deal about resilience and “the importance of bouncing back and not giving up,” and Butch said that helped to deal with a series of medical problems he’d had to deal with, including a disabling back condition which would continue to plague him.

Butch passed away in November 2013. Famous for his sense of humor, a few months before he died, before his 70th birthday, he and two good friends held a “Last Gasp of our 60s!” celebration that was a great party. Butch loved and could tell a good story, and he loved the company of friends. He also cherished and enjoyed the admiration of his family of nieces and nephews, children of his older brother and older sister who predeceased him. They loved his “positive and enthusiastic” way and how he “was genuinely interested in what you had to say;” they loved “his sweet smile, lamb-like sensitivity and passion to soak up family news;” and they loved sharing funny stories, family history and tales of New York, especially “while sipping a glass of fine white Bordeaux!”

He spoke with lifelong friend EB Smith two weeks before he died; and expressing gratitude for his family and friends and the numerous experiences he had had, he told EB peacefully, “I have had a wonderful life.”

David Walker remembers:

I met Butch Hubbard in my first class at Yale, one on classical Greek drama that was taught by a very good and also flamboyant young professor we each got a kick out of, and we became instant and lifelong friends. He loved theater, was interested in people and politics, and had an infectious sense of humor that was able to see irony and humor — sometimes gallows humor — that altogether made him great company and a great friend throughout our Yale years together. In early years after we graduated, when I would have occasion to go to New York, I always stayed with him at his East Side apartment. He was assistant director at the Cloisters and then the Morgan at those times, and he loved the work and the people, and the drama, too. As time went on, we did not have much chance to see each other but would talk or write. Both of us loved theater, Butch especially, and he became involved on the producing side of many successful revivals. He loved Nathan Lane’s Nathan Detroit in the revival of Guys and Dolls, which won the Tony Award in 1992; and he absolutely marveled about Bebe Neuwirth’s Velma Kelly in Chicago, which he helped produce. He said he’d gone to see the show, and her, dozens of times. When my daughter Kincaid graduated from Northwestern, with a degree in theater, Hugh welcomed her to New York, offered good advice, and always expressed interest in how she was doing. My wife and I last saw Butch at a party that he and a couple of friends gave as their ’70s loomed — “Last Gasp of our ’60s!” they called it. It was a hoot. It was clear that Butch had made and kept really good friends, from childhood, from Yale, from wherever, and that they treasured him. Sara and I had the opportunity the next day to visit and talk over brunch at his apartment in Lake Forest, and despite obvious physical hardship he was experiencing, Butch exuded all the interest in others, insight, humor and joy that had struck me fifty-some years ago in that first class of classical Greek drama. It did and still does make me think of the old Yale song and the line, “. . . But time and change shall naught avail / To break the friendships formed at Yale,” and be grateful for them.