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Louise Ireland Humphrey

Louise Ireland Humphrey

Louise Ireland Humphrey belonged to the fourth generation of Hanna-Ireland family members who loved the Red Hills region of Southwest Georgia and North Florida. As a family, the Hannas and the Irelands were dedicated to public service and brought their immense talents to enhance the region.

Louise’s great-grandfather, Howard Melville Hanna, purchased both Pebble Hill and Melrose plantations in 1896 and began the family tradition of giving back to Thomasville. Louise’s grandmother, Kate Hanna Ireland Harvey, was deeply committed to education and health care. She brought the Visiting Nurse Association to the area and Pebble Hill School to the plantation. Louise’s parents, Robert Livingston Ireland, Jr. and Margaret Allen Ireland, were also active civic leaders, supporters of the arts, and interested in government affairs. In a 1986 Cleveland Magazine article Louise said, “My parents were an example of public service. I was brought up to do volunteer service.”

Thomasville’s Archbold Memorial Hospital was the recipient of Louise’s interest and time as well as her financial support. She served as a Trustee of Archbold Medical Center and as a member of the Executive Committee of Archbold Memorial Hospital. Interest in the medical welfare of their communities is a Hanna–Ireland family tradition that goes back to Howard Melville Hanna and his wife. The donor wall at Archbold bears witness to the family’s support.

Louise was passionately committed to the arts and much of her boundless energy was spent in supporting organizations across the country such as the Thomasville Entertainment Foundation. Janice Faircloth, TEF Executive Director, in recalling Louise writes:

“I first met Louise Humphrey in the early 1980s, and I was in awe. She was attractive, gracious, intelligent, and generous with her time, expertise and financial resources. We served together on the Thomasville Entertainment Foundation (TEF) Board of Trustees where she was an active member of the Executive and Program Committees. She served on the board for more than 20 years, and until the time of her death, served as a permanent trustee of the TEF Endowment Trust.

From time to time, when artists from the Metropolitan Opera appeared on the TEF concert series, Louise would arrange transportation from the airport to Woodfield Springs where she would personally host them during the engagement.

One of her most impressive attributes was her generosity of time. With all of her responsibilities in New York, Cleveland, Florida, etc., she always had time for her commitments in Thomasville. I remember once when she was Chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and their board meeting was in Tallahassee,  the meeting happened to coincide with one of TEF’s concerts. Louise didn’t call to say she wouldn’t attend because she had other commitments; instead she called to order additional tickets and marched the whole commission board up to Thomasville to the concert.”

Louise Humphrey was one of those special people who could manage a myriad of activities, fill days meaningfully from early morning to late evening, and never lose sight of what is truly important in life. Louise was the quintessential wife and mother.

Louise married Gilbert “Bud” Humphrey in 1939, a match of exuberant personalities, shared values, and like interests. “Bud,” proudly served his country as a lieutenant during WWII while Louise lived in Hunt Valley outside of Cleveland. Her first commitments were to her three small children, twins Margo and George II (born in 1942) and Watts (born in 1944). During the war, Louise did find time to serve as a Red Cross nurse’s aide at Cleveland’s Memorial Hospital and actively supported other civic and arts organizations.

Louise summed up her views on parenting in the Cleveland Magazine article by saying:

“So many working women today are wrapped up in an identity through their jobs, but the greatest job is to raise kids who will be good citizens.”

In the tradition of Hanna women, Louise loved horses and riding, a passion which she shared with her children. Riding became a way of bringing her family closer together. Quoting Cleveland Magazine, Louise said, “I seldom did anything outside the home after 4 p.m. until the children went away to school. Every afternoon when they were young, rain, sleet, or snow, we would ride together.”

Louise began riding about the same time she began walking. Many happy days were spent on horseback during the winter season at her grandmother’s plantation, Pebble Hill. It is here that she also learned to love the land. She became an avid hunter and conservationist. She would tumble out of a warm bed at 4:30 a.m. to join her father in a cold duck blind without a grumble, just for love of being with her dad and for love of the sport. A friend Raymond Hughes recalled that Louise carried a box of Pebble Hill dirt with her when she went away to school because she was homesick for the Southwest Georgia experience that she loved so much.

When her Aunt Pansy died in 1978, Louise became chairman of the Pebble Hill Foundation Board and spent over twenty years directing the development of the property into a museum. Her dedication to PHP never wavered. Wallace Goodman, PHP Director, recalled that during the time his tenure overlapped Louise’s chairmanship, he would receive a faxed copy of her itinerary every three months. She would be flying around the country supporting her various causes but never forgot that she might be needed at her beloved Pebble Hill. In these pre-cell phone days, the fax carried phone numbers where she could reached. Included was the number of her secretary at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera.

On a broader scale, an author from Cleveland, her hometown, described Louise as the “Grande Dame of Cleveland society” while reflecting on her participation in civic and charitable activities. Her time, talent and financial support went to: Case Western Reserve University's Medical School, the Visiting Nurse Association, and the Northern Ohio Opera Association of which she was president (1962-84). Louise also led the boards of the National Home Caring Council, Cleveland Homemaker Association, and the Day Nursery Association.

Another author chose “Queen of Arts” for the title of an article about Louise when she made history by becoming the first woman president of the Metropolitan Opera Association. Louise joined the Met board in 1974 and went on to serve as chief executive of the Metropolitan Opera National Council (1980–84). She served as the president of the Met board from 1984 until 1991 and was an honorary director of the company's board at the time of her death.

Camille LaBarre became acquainted with Louise when she was a junior member of the Cleveland Opera Association and Louise was president. After Louise became president of the Metropolitan Opera, Camille moved to New Your City and Louise recruited her to manage the National Council Auditions. Currently Camille is on the Metropolitan Opera Board. When asked about her friend and colleague Louise Humphrey, Camille began with,

“Louise was wonderful to everyone. When she walked back stage she told everyone to ‘just call me Louise.’ Louise gave magnificent cast parties, often in her home, with exquisite food, fun and a convivial atmosphere.” Additionally Camille felt “Louise was a strong woman who had never known fear therefore she did not fear. To take on the management of the largest opera in the country and arguably the largest in the world is an amazing feat for a woman in the 1980’s. She did her job well and surrounded herself with capable people.” Finally Camille speculated that “Louise’s background as an excellent sportswoman, particularly her experience as the Master of the Chagrin Valley Hunt, prepared her for the strong leadership role she was to assume.”

And the circle closes. It closes back in Thomasville and the close friendship between Louise and Raymond Hughes. Conductor and pianist Raymond grew up in a musical Thomasville family then graduated from the University of Georgia with honors. After graduate school and holding successive posts in opera, Hughes became Chorus Master with the Metropolitan in 1991. Although he knew several Hanna–Ireland family members in Thomasville, he had not met Louise before he took the position in New York City.

“We bonded immediately!  She really loved South Georgia, Thomasville and Pebble Hill. And, of course, we both loved music and opera.”

Raymond remembers “Louise holding cast parties in her NYC apartment until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and then shooing guests out because she had a 6:00 a.m. plane to catch in order to make a 9:00 Florida Wildlife Commission meeting or some other obligation across the country.”

“Louise, like Pansy, Kate and Margo, were the most unpretentious people I have ever known.”  And, “everyone loved Louise. We loved her because she was so much fun!”

The indefatigable Louise put roots down. She puts roots down in Ohio, New York, Kentucky, Maine and the Red Hills region of South Georgia and North Florida. And wherever she went she was dedicated to making that place a better place. She brought her dedication to public service and she brought her immense talents.

Many of the Hanna-Ireland family friendships link Cleveland and South Georgia and cross generational lines. Kathy Vignos Folsom grew up in Cleveland and resides at her Thomasville plantation, Milestone. Milestone Plantation once belonged to Louise Humphrey’s in-laws. Kathy writes,

“Louise was truly a grand dame, a rarity in today’s world. Charming, cultured and astute, she was an icon and friend with her spirited personality to all generations. My grandparents, parents, my husband and I all cherished her friendship. Always beautifully dressed with exquisite jewelry, she also had a wonderful and slightly wicked, mischievous sense of humor. Full of life and still a competitor at age 80, we used to go beagleing every morning at Woodfield Springs where she could outlast and outrun anyone and then win blue ribbons at the hound show!  I was privileged to know her.”

Louise cherished time spent at Woodfield Springs, her plantation located in the Red Hills region near Miccosukee, Florida. And it was Woodfield Springs that Louise chose for retirement home. Frances Brady, Louise’s secretary for over thirty years, writes from Woodfield Springs,

“Louise was a very special lady to work for. She was articulate with her words and graciously mannered. Louise was challenging for sure, but with a great sense of humor. She gave of herself to many organizations. She touched our hearts forever.”

Raymond Hughes summed up Louise Humphrey best by saying, “There are giants that walk among us. We have to be happy about what they left behind.” 

Please visit the Louise Ireland Humphrey photo gallery thru this link.


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