Goodbye, Sweet Diva: Remembering Louise Hodgson

By |2007-11-22T09:00:00-05:00November 22nd, 2007|News|

The lights have dimmed. The golden curtain has descended. The musicians have gone. There will be no more Mimi. No more Aida. No more Turandot. Sadly, no more heartbroken Butterfly.
Here then, the final brava! Bravissima! The traditional fans’ bouquet of roses to offer for Louise Hodgson, 86, who, having taken her final bow — with friends nearby to bid her adieu — November 4th stepped across Wotan’s magic rainbow bridge into that operatic Valhalla (perhaps with Wagnerian spear in hand) reserved for divas and those dedicated wholeheartedly to the arts.
Diminutive, 4′ 10″, convivial, attentive, Louise was diva and connoisseur. A lover of melody. Vocal embellishments. A good bit of drang und strum now and then. La Traviata. Manon. Isolde.
She was also an icon of sorts for many years to the Detroit gay community. In her own small, determined — and noticeable — way, she was the talk of the town, both straight and gay, being seen at plays, concerts, operas, ballets, musicals, cultural events with a string of escorts years younger than her (and usually gay) who delighted in her knowledgeable company. And, one might add more truthfully, basking in her carefully coordinated notoriety. Yes, she had her fans.
“She was a real treasure,” says Dr. David DiChiera, director of the Michigan Opera Theater, where Louise attended frequently in costume. “She was the personification of the joy of all things operatic. Great PR for Verdi, Puccini, and Mozart.”
One of her many escorts, Brian Carter, now in his late 40s, says, “Louise took me to events I couldn’t afford to attend as a student. She introduced me to — quote, unquote — the finer things in life. She was a mentor and a ‘parent’ who accepted me as gay when I was just coming out. She listened. She encouraged. She gently advised. I needed someone who actually cared.”
Louise loved the gay community. She was a longtime supporter of the Triangle Foundation, and in the late 70s an imbibing buddy of Jeff Montgomery and restauranteur and present owner of Twingo’s, straight ally John Lopez. The drink of celebration at the trio’s many social hours at the Whitney Restaurant was Dewar’s.
“We were dedicated members of the Dewar’s Highland Clan, and wore our promotional pins as badges of honor,” says Lopez. “Louise was very funny. And full of wonderful stories.”
Louise would often finish her evening’s venture into culture — dressed as the opera heroine of the moment — with further celebration at the Woodward Bar. Owner Andy Karacas would announce over the PA system, “Here she is everybody. The lovely Louise. Who’s your gorgeous escort this evening, my dear? Is he legal?”
Louise would smile energetically, wave her hand in the air like Queen Elizabeth, and curtsey. Her presence was acknowledged by applause. Applause — but with reservation on the part of a few gay men who dismissed her as nothing other than a fag hag seeking attention. They hadn’t a clue. (Her husband William Lester Hodgson died in 1965. Louise was 44.)
Retired graphic artist Gordon Barnard, who makes his home in Roseville, remembers seeing Louise at the now-defunct Deck Bar at the edge of Grosse Pointe. “I was fascinated,” says Barnard. “To me she was a class act. She was a lady. Good manners. Good breeding. It showed. Her knowledge of the seven arts was encyclopedic. She knew all about the Hollywood stars and character actors. For some silly queens she was a joke. What events do you go to I asked her. All of them, she replied.”
But Louise was nobody’s Parsifal, the fool. She was bright, on the mark as a Price Waterhouse accountant’s high-speed calculator, and a formidable personality in the give-and-take milieu of labor negotiations for Michigan Bell, where she worked as labor relations arbitrator for 46 years, then continuing on as a consultant.
Terry Shea, who has been a longtime close friend and recently guardian and executor of Louise’s modest estate, says “Her past years saw the gradual demise of an exceptional mind and a caring, loving person. It was sad to witness her fade away, especially hard for those of us who shared her varied cultural interests.
“Her glory days as a ubiquitous patron of the arts, a friend to our community, and something of a performance artist herself — are gone forever. She often said, Beauty’s to be found everywhere. It’s just that sometimes you have to look a little harder to see it. She was unique. One of a kind.”
God speed, Louise.
In accordance with her wishes donations in memory of Louise Hodgson may be made to the Michigan Opera Theater.

About the Author:

Charles Alexander