By Andrew Edmonson, guest writer
Houston Ballet was saddened to learn that longtime Houston Ballet trustee Preston J. Frazier passed away on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at the age of 86 of natural causes in his home.
For over four decades, Preston was a passionately committed volunteer and trustee of Houston Ballet. In 1981, he created the concept for Houston Ballet Guild’s phenomenally successful fundraiser, the Nutcracker Market. Over the last 30 years, the Market has grown to be Houston’s third largest fundraising event and has generated over $36 million for Houston Ballet Foundation, its academy and scholarship programs for young dancers.
A native Houstonian who graduated from Lamar High School and Rice University with a degree in engineering, Preston went on to serve as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, and to found Cargo Houston, an import company that presaged Pier 1. Preston was a passionate balletomane, with a deep love of dance in general and Houston Ballet’s dancers specifically. For many years, he managed Houston Ballet’s boutique in Wortham Theater Center on a volunteer basis, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars for Houston Ballet. When he wasn’t working in the boutique, he could be found watching Houston Ballet performances intently, appreciating every nuance and detail.
Without his constant support in many ways from the 1970s to the 2000s, Houston Ballet would not be the same company it is today. Preston truly set the bar for how a passionately committed volunteer who loves an organization can help take it to new heights.
Preston was many things: an entrepreneur, a world traveler, a jokester, and the consummate volunteer. In all those roles, he made an indelible impression on the lives of those he touched, be they Houston Ballet dancers, staff or other volunteers. We share some of our memories of Preston below.
Kate Crady, Houston Ballet’s Director of Public Relations in the 1980s:
Preston was a ring leader, and a force of nature. In everything he did there was a sense of a circus where he gave everyone a part, and encouraged everyone with praise. The world was his playground, and he swept everyone up in it.
Once he took his god children to the circus. He arrived in the car that had been decorated in crepe paper and balloons, with a long sign along the side of the car saying, “The Mears are Going to the Zoo!”
He found humor where no one else found it. He loved other cultures and traveled worldwide to purchase unusual merchandise for his Galleria store, Cargo Houston, so he could introduce the things he gathered as a means to educate about different cultures. His travels took him to the far corners of the Far East to find unusual merchandise. Once the hotel desk clerk gave him a pistol to take with him to his room to shoot the rats! He thought that was hilarious.
Preston had a sense of creativity about everything he did. He turned the Nutcracker Market from a few jars of jam into a $3 million operation. It was Preston who was the guiding force, he was the one who got everyone involved.
The year after the market surpassed the $1 million mark, people from all over the U.S. and Canada traveled to Houston to meet with him to find out his secret. The market has been copied often and benefitted the missions of so many nonprofit organizations. He was a natural marketing genius without intention, just Preston being creative and original. His tireless efforts and incredible enthusiasm made the market what it is today.
Preston did things one step at a time, and it always involved people, as he was constantly rewarding people who had contributed, always having fun along the way. He introduced people to each other, and people would shine because he had knack for seeing them at their best. He would envision something, get everyone involved, offer guidance, but always made people think they thought of it.
He never asked for accolades or credit. He was constantly giving credit to others. He was too busy thinking of the next thing.
Kate Kirkland, former Houston Ballet trustee and president of Houston Ballet Guild:
I was President of Houston Ballet Guild from January1981 until June 1982. I will never forget the day Preston came to me with the idea for a Christmas market and a request for underwriting. Already he was projecting $600,000 — but we only had $20,000 to lend. His dreams came true and so much more. Without Preston we would not have begun.
All of us will never forget his passion for ballet, his knowledge of Houston’s heritage, and his great gifts to the community as a worker, benefactor, mentor, and friend. What a lovely man — one of my favorite Houston Ballet personalities. I will truly miss him.
Ava Jean Mears, Houston Grand Opera Public Relations Director during the 1980s and a close personal friend of Preston Frazier since 1944:
One of his Preston’s first jobs was as an usher at the River Oaks Theater, and he always loved the theater from then on. He worked his way up to assistant manager. He lived just a few blocks away and walked to work every day, and carried his money home in a paper sack.
I remember a 1960s themed party he organized in 1980. Everyone dressed up in costume wearing bobby socks and loafers with poodle skirts. He dressed up as a DJ with a painted-on black toupee. It was so fabulous. People danced for hours and hours on the dance floor.
Patsy Chapman, Houston Ballet’s director of individual giving and events who manages the Nutcracker Market:
Preston taught me much of what I know today about retail sales, the wholesale markets and the Nutcracker Market and I will forever be grateful to him for passing along this mighty torch. I have the fondest memories of this hard-working man, jokester and friend.