The note arrived late one afternoon three months ago via one of those online forms filled out by readers who donât have my contact information. âThis might be a strange email to get,â it said, âand I am still unsure how to write down what I am trying to get across, but I thought I would give it a try.â
The correspondent was Lily Houghton, a 22-year-old senior at Bennington College, whom I had never met. But I had met her dad, James Houghton, a major figure in the nonprofit theater world who had died last summer, and thatâs what prompted her to reach out to me, the theater reporter at The New York Times. She wanted to talk.
It was an unusual request â I donât often hear from the children of deceased public figures â and I wasnât sure I could be of much assistance because at first I thought she wanted to write a tribute to her father, and I didnât think The Times would be interested. But I remembered my lost-ness after the death of my own father. âNot sure what youâre envisioning,â I responded, âor whether this is the place for it, but happy to try to help you think that through.â
Then began weeks of emails, phone calls, and meetings that led to our publication (online last week, in print on Sunday) of striking photographs of a few of the hundreds of objects that Lilyâs father had left to her, keepsakes from his remarkable career. James Houghton was the founding artistic director of Signature Theater, an Off Broadway nonprofit and a noted champion of many of the most significant playwrights of the last few decades; the objects…