Photo by Danny Fulgencio

 

Neighbor Anné Kouri Hughes, director of fine arts at the June Shelton School, recently released a book, “My Life with Tom Hughes,” about her husband, who died in 1994. For more than three decades, Tom Hughes helped elevate the Dallas musical theater scene to national prominence. Often referred to as the “Musicals Man of Dallas,” Hughes was producer and managing director of Dallas Summer Musicals, hosting such stars as Carol Burnett, Katharine Hepburn, Carol Channing, Sandy Duncan and Gene Kelly. For 20 years, Anné Hughes has inspired Shelton’s students to become actors, musicians and behind-the-scenes technicians. Many have secured college scholarships under her guidance. Originally from Wichita Falls, she is the mother of three and grandmother of one.

How did you and Tom meet?

I came home to my University of North Texas dorm from basketball practice, showered, changed into khaki slacks and went to pick up my friend. She was on costume crew for the play “Deathtrap.” The plan was to go to IHOP for coffee. She said, “Change of plans! We’ve been invited to go to this opening night party.” It was an intimate gathering of adults in black tie and long dresses, and I’m like, “Oh no.” The hostess brought me a Coke in a crystal goblet, and I immediately dropped it on her expensive blue carpet. I was on the floor sopping it up, and this handsome older man was shooting paper towels toward the disaster area. Our eyes met, and I thought to myself, “He has the kindest eyes.” I could see beyond the hostess to a den with no one in it. I thought, “I’m going to sit in that wing chair by the fire, and I’m going to cry.” Just then Tom sat down and said, “After the way you behaved at the Cannes Film Festival, I’m surprised you had the nerve to show up here.” Without missing a beat, I said, “After the way I behaved? You were the one who embarrassed us in front of the countess.” And he said, “How was I to know she had a gun?” And we fell out laughing. We talked and talked. I thought, “This is the most interesting man my parents’ age I’ve ever met.” He was 49, and I was 21. Later he told me that when he saw me he had an immediate flash: “I’m going to marry that girl.”

How did you reconcile the age difference? 

He got there a lot sooner than I did. I replaced someone in his office at the Music Hall one summer and got to know him better. My job was to drive stars around. We played gin rummy while waiting. One night, he seemed so nervous. He put his cards down and said, “I love you, and I want to marry you.” I thought I felt the same way. But then a great aunt of mine, who I respected and admired, pictured a predatory stereotype of a producer with gold chains and dark glasses, and she was having none of it. She said, “I would like you to get rid of him and get rid of him now.” And I said, “Yes, ma’am.”  Tom said, “I understand. We will be friends.”

What changed?

We were friends for the next year and a half. I moved to New York City and pursued a career in the theater. UNT invited me to come back and be in a production for working alumni. They invited me to be in Tom Hughes’ play. When I came back to rehearse that show, Tom was chatting a lot with a lovely British woman about his age. I was jealous and upset. I was staying with the dean of women, and one day she said, “You need to tell Tom Hughes that you love him and that you’ll marry him.” I went to him, looked down and said, “I have always loved you. I did not have the courage to follow my heart. I understand that it’s too late now.” Suddenly, he opened his arms and said, “Welcome home.” We had just short of 11 years of a wonderful marriage with three great kids.

How old was he when he died?
He was 62. He lifted the 10-month-old baby out of the crib one day and said, “Oh, I think I pulled something in my shoulder.” It turned out to be a metastasized lung cancer that had gone to the bone. In less than a year, he passed away. Our children were 8, 6 and almost 2.

How did you survive such a loss?

Being Tom’s wife required a certain amount of courage and strength. He demanded the best of me all the time. He believed in me, just as he believed in so many others — Sandy Duncan, Tommy Tune. I had wonderful friends in our church at Preston Hollow Presbyterian. I never remarried. I think the kids still wish they would’ve known him more.

How long have you worked at Shelton?

I’ve been here 20 years. I love it. It’s a school that focuses on students in a 360-degree way to give them everything they need to be successful. We help them remediate a learning difference, maybe participate in a sport or fine arts, get them well-rounded and then send them out into the world.

What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s going to be OK. It gets better. I would tell myself to try to be still more often and listen to God. 

What plans do you have for the book?
My dream is for this book to inspire and enrich. Tom had this wonderful legacy of kindness. We need to connect with one another and bring out the best in one another.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.


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