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Surprise $2.5 Million Gift Wows This Theatre Crowd, Honors a 33-Year Houston Friendship

New State of the Art Theater Complex Gets a Huge Boost

BY // 02.25.19
photography Daniel Ortiz

Houston business partners and philanthropists Lester Smith and Russell Gordy have relished playing practical jokes on each other during their 33-year friendship. But it was no laughing matter as the two came together at the record-breaking Stages Repertory Theatre Gala Friday night.

Instead, the excited black-tie crowd of  more than 450 at The Revaire jumped to their feet in rapturous applause as Smith and his wife Sue surprised Gordy and his wife Glenda with a $2.5 million donation to complete Stages’ new home near Allen Parkway, scheduled to open early next year. The state-of-the-art three-theater complex, dubbed The Gordy, is named for the couple who gave $5 million to get the project started and were the evening’s honorees.

Smith, a two-time cancer survivor and double lung transplantee, had told Gordy he would not be able to attend the gala and sent a $1,000 donation to throw his friend off the trail, but was determined to be there and snuck in before dinner began.

“He’s the most important friend I have,” Smith tells PaperCity. “I love Russell.”

The gesture clearly touched the Gordys, as Russell Gordy was temporarily at a loss for words before bringing laughter back to the room with a humorous story about an April’s Fool joke he pulled on Lester Smith involving an imposter who convinced Smith his electricity would be cut off unless he paid the bill immediately.

“He’s quite a character and a very generous man. He’s given away more money than anyone I’ve known in Houston,” Gordy said in saluting Smith. “He’s been a wonderful partner and a great friend.”

The Smith gift boosted the theater company’s capital campaign, called “Staging Our Future,” past its $32 million goal. The 223-seat arena stage in the new complex will be named the Lester and Sue Smith Stage in honor of the couple’s donation. Officials also announced that the 251-seat showpiece theater will be named Sterling Stage in honor of the Sterling-Turner Foundation, another large donor.

The gala theme was “The Night Garden,” as the new event facility operated by A Fare Extraordinaire on Old Katy Road was decorated with trellises of live tulip magnolias, ivy woven through large chandeliers and floral centerpieces at each table. Guests dined on a seasonal vegetable garden salad with mushroom “dirt,” pan seared halibut and a chocolate “terrarium” dessert.

Guests were asked to dress  in “Fiendishly Floral” attire and many took the theme to heart. A number of women, including Jane Wagner, Elaine Messer, Enid Sanchez, Deborah Elias, and Glenda Gordy, dazzled in floral-themed gowns. Standouts among the men included Ceron in a pair of floral Chanel palazzo pants and Stages artistic director Kenn McLaughlin in an attention-getting floral print tuxedo jacket which he chose “because Russell dared me to wear it.”

Gala co-chairs Judy and Jim Nicklos were thrilled that the gala brought in a record-breaking amount of more than $630,000. The Gordy’s sons, Garrett Gordy and Shaun Gordy, and Garrett’s wife, Alicia, joined in the celebration as well as the couple’s close friends, baseball icon Phil Garner and wife Carol.

Also seen in the crowd were Stages board chairman George Lancaster, board president Steven Owsley, Stages managing director Mark Folkes, Isla and T.R. Reckling, Jane and Dick Schmitt, Sally and Phillip Edmundson, Brenda and Bradley Jones, Jo and Jim Furr, Ruth Calabrese, Lauren Granello, William Finnorn, Marnie Greenwood, John and Becca Cason Thrash, Vivian Wise, Mauri Oliver, Vicki Rizzo, Dr. Roland Maldonado, Duke and CC Ensell, Trish and Rock Morille, Sandra Porter, Leisa Holland-Nelson, Myrtle Jones, and Debbie and Rudy Festari.

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