Peter Marzio, the longest-serving director of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, died Thursday night from metastasized cancer. He was 67 years old. Marzio began his tenure at the MFAH in 1982 and oversaw its growth, as the collection quadrupled and new buildings were added, including the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden; Rienzi; and the Audrey Jones Beck building. He was known as a consummate fundraiser, securing the historic gift from Carolyn Weiss Law of nearly half a billion dollars, one of the largest single gifts to an American museum in history. An extremely private man, Marzio was known to have been battling cancer during the past couple of years, but the exact nature of his illness was known to few people. More recently, he was in seeming good health and believed to be in remission, as he energetically led planning sessions for the American Association of Museums (AAM) conference, scheduled for Houston in 2011, and discussed plans with his staff for the MFAH’s long-planned building for contemporary art. However, in recent weeks it was discovered that his cancer had metastasized when he began experiencing back pain during a trip, and he was hospitalized at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Hospital, where he died. He is survived by his wife, Frances, curator of the Glassell Collections at the MFAH, and his two children. A public memorial service is being planned for January.
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