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Friday, June 21, 2024

When Bill and Hazel Hough donated the self-portrait that hangs in the new William R. Hough Hall, they chose a modern, multidimensional piece from their home in Aspen, Colo.                                     

The Houghs, who donated $30 million, the largest private gift in UF history, to the graduate business programs, said the picture was one of many personal touches they wanted in the building.                                                                           

“It’s much better than a still photo of me in a suit, glowering at the students,” Bill Hough said to about 200 people at a Wednesday dedication ceremony.                                     

Hough Hall, on Southwest 13th Street and Hull Road, blends with the surrounding decades-old buildings on UF’s campus.                                       

But closer inspection reveals important details: state-of-the-art technology, ultra-modern design and the touch of passionate benefactors.  The Houghs helped choose the building’s artwork, including four purple and turquoise boats that hang high over the common area and are worth $90,000.

Bill Hough also insisted that the rooms be flexible enough to adjust to new technologies, said Sara Brazda, director of development for the business college.

“They’re the perfect partners on something like this,” Brazda said. “They’ve given their input and resources, and they’ve stayed committed to the project from start to finish. But they also allowed room for the professionals to carry out their own visions.”                      For generations, students will ponder investments and stock prices as they walk through the business graduate building, and many students won’t give a passing thought to the donors who made the building a reality.

But who are the people who donated so much time and money to Hough Hall? And what inspired them to give?

Meet Bill and Hazel

Sitting with the Houghs in their sunny, modest apartment, it’s immediately easy to like them.                                                Both 83 years old, Bill and Hazel Hough are not snobby or stuffy but curious and cordial. They talk openly about the donations they’ve made to UF’s graduate business program, athletic programs and the Harn Museum. But they aren’t bragging.

“I learned a lot at UF, and I feel like it’s my duty to give back,” said Bill Hough, who earned a master of business administration.                    

Every day, he walks two blocks to his office from his downtown St. Petersburg apartment to work as a consultant at the investment company he founded and then operated for 38 years before selling it in 2004.

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He loves bonds. And he loves his wife. So at 4:30 p.m. on a Monday when she doesn’t feel well, he’s anxious to leave work to take care of her.

In the elevator on the way out of the building, the self-described financial conservative fumbles with a can of powdered Gatorade, and then he unwittingly reveals a secret to his financial success.                                                            

“My wife is making me take this back to the store,” he says with a chuckle. “It has a dent.”                                          

Hazel Hough is as warm and worldly as the colorful paintings and sculptures she’s fit into every nook of their apartment.                 

When her husband walks in late, she teasingly scolds him. He gives her a kiss. She lights up when she talks about her travels, recalling her meetings with people in countries such as Thailand and  Georgia.

Because of her admiration for the arts, her husband named a wing of St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts after her, she said.

The Houghs and the Gators                                

Bill Hough attended UF from 1947-1948 as one of two people in the first class of UF’s MBA program. He studied hard, but he also socialized with his Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers.

Life at his fraternity house, which was on Southwest 13th Street and Second Avenue, required that he sometimes stay up late playing bridge, he said.                                                                   

“We slept about 140 men, and I stayed on the back porch,” he said with a laugh. “It was cold on that back porch.”                           On football game days, Hough and his fraternity brothers walked to the stadium. “The campus was small back then, and few people had cars or bicycles,” he said.                                                              

The Gator football team didn’t win a single SEC game in 1947, but Hough’s support for the team was unconditional.                          

 “It was a bad time for Florida football, but we still rooted for them,” he said.                                   

Hazel Hough became a Gator later than her husband.                                                                     

Despite graduating from Florida State University, she’s long considered herself a Gator, a title made official in 2007 when the faculty senate named her an honorary alumna.                                                        

Hough found out about the honor when she was up reading the St. Petersburg Times one Sunday morning.

“I had to read it twice,” she laughed. “I couldn’t wait for Bill to wake up so I could tell him.”

Bill and Hazel fall in love                             

Bill and Hazel Hough, then Hazel Clarkson, met in Fort Myers. Her mother and his aunt, who were best friends, were hoping the recent college graduates would hit it off.

“Her mother wanted her to come to my aunt’s house for a Coke, and she had just gotten home from the beach, so she didn’t feel like it,” Bill Hough said. “But she came over anyway. We were both on our guard.”

On their third date, Bill Hough picked up his future wife in his blue 1941 Dodge Coupe and took her to see the Harry James Band, a popular swing-era orchestra.                   

“I fell in love with her at that concert,” he said, smiling at the memory.                                                   

Bill Hough started an investment company in St. Petersburg, and Hazel Hough worked in merchandising at Burdines department store in Miami.

Tired of the distance, Bill Hough cooked up a conservative proposal. “What would you say if I asked you to marry me?”                    

 She replied, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask me first!”                                                                       

They married in April of 1951, and they have three children.                                                       

Success in business                                                

Bill Hough started his investment business, William R. Hough and Co., three years out of graduate school, something he said was possible because of what he learned about stocks, bonds and good investments at UF. In his early twenties, he had to convince clients that he could invest their money well.                                                                          

“He always looked younger than he was,” Hazel said. “But people saw that he was an earnest young man.”                                   

Stocks were low when he got into business in the early 1950s, Bill said.                                         

“There was not that much competition and there were very few people entering the investment business at that time. Most investments went up,” he said.                                                          

But it was his hard work that transformed his small investment company into a powerhouse.                                                   To illustrate, he told a story.                                  

One Friday before Christmas, he was supposed to fly from St. Petersburg to Atlanta and then drive to Crestview, in the Florida panhandle, to bid on a bond issue. A blizzard in Atlanta rerouted his flight to Chicago. From Chicago he flew to Memphis, Tenn., where he landed at midnight. He rented a car and drove eight hours to Crestview, arriving only an hour before his 9 a.m. meeting.           

“We made the only bid, so we got the deal,” he said. “It was worth the journey.”

Bill and Hazel today                                        

These days, Bill and Hazel Hough attend UF’s major football and basketball games, but health problems prevent them from making it to every home game like they used to.                              

Even so, they’ve been to Gainesville often in the past two years to decide on art for Hough Hall, visit their granddaughter who attends UF and go to the Harn Museum.                                                       

In St. Petersburg, they’ve donated to many of the museums and schools visible from the glass wall of their 10th floor apartment, including the Salvador Dali Museum, Eckerd College and St. Petersburg College. “Some people prefer the apartments that are much higher up,” Hazel said. “But me, I prefer to be a part of what’s happening down on the ground.”

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