Goodbye party for Fran Delisle at the King Center organized by musicians of the Brevard Symphony Orchestra. Standing are Fran Delisle and Maestro Christopher Confessore. Photo by Pam Harbaugh
By PAM HARBAUGH
There sure has been a lot of love heaped upon Fran Delisle, who has retired after giving 25 years to the Brevard Symphony Orchestra as its executive director.
Musicians, staffers, board members and patrons are sad to see Fran step aside. But, it’s also time for celebrating all that she has meant to the broader community.
First, there was the lovely party earlier this month arranged by the orchestra musicians between concerts at the King Center. Tonight, Feb. 19, was a grand retirement party at the Eau Gallie Yacht Club with a delicious meal provided by Genna’s and Skewers. It was organized in part by one of Fran’s biggest supporters and one of Brevard’s most important champion for the arts — Darcia Jones Francey, who is BSO board member and past board chairman.
Its roster of speakers included: BSO Maestro Christopher Confessore, King Center executive director Steve Janicki, board members Lisa McAlpine and Charles Nash, past BSO chair Dick Beagley, and incoming executive director David Schillhammer.
Amidst gorgeous bouquets by the Eau Gallie Florist, Lauri Hart and other past Guild presidents gave Fran a beautiful plaque and celebrated artist Frits van Eeden gave her one of his fabulous paintings. And, Mr. Nash and board member Ann Marie Brush presented Fran with a check from BSO Board Members and Friends.
Darcia, who served as event chair for the sophisticated soiree, hoped “Fran will use the money to take a luxury trip.”
“It is a bittersweet time for the BSO to have Fran Delisle leave,” Darcia said. “It seems like yesterday that she arrived. Fran is the ultimate executive director and the glue that has held the BSO together for the last 25 years. She is well respected in her field and a leading advocate for the cultural arts in Brevard County.
Chris Confessore calls Delisle a “close friend and colleague” and that she’s been an excellent executive director.
“I am extremely grateful to have shared such a long partnership with someone who loves the BSO every bit as much as I do,” he said. “The orchestra has grown so much during Fran’s tenure, and she leaves behind an incredible legacy.”
During her tenure, the BSO’s Fifth Grade Concert, which introduces elementary school children to the symphony, has taken on a life of its own. Then there were the concerts on golf courses, in parking lots, at Kennedy Space Center until Saturn V rocket and the Space Shuttle Atlantis. And, Delisle was instrumental in the formation of the annual Cultural Arts Showcase held at the beginning of each cultural season at the King Center.
And speaking of the King Center concerts, consider: She spent her final day on the job with as much energy and verve that she had from day one:
It was Feb. 9. The orchestra was getting ready for its “Great Movies, Grand Piano” concerts, one at 2 the other at 8 p.m. at the King Center.
She arrived at 12:30 p.m. and went back stage to talk with the crew to make sure everything was set up. Were there enough chairs and music stands on stage? Was the conductor’s podium set and the microphone ready? Were the percussion instruments in place?
She didn’t have to worry about getting that bouquet of flowers tucked into the backstage refrigerator because there was no female soloist performing that day. But there were still the programs and the tickets to consider.
And then she saw one person whose arrival always put her at ease — Maestro Christopher Confessore, the BSO’s conductor and music director. That’s when she would relax a bit because, as she said, “I know things are good. He’s here.”
Then she went into the lobby to greet patrons, answer questions and “schmooze,” as she calls it. When the musicians began gathering on stage, she went into the wings, off stage right, and waited. She heard the orchestra tune and let out a sigh. It was the Maestro’s show now.
Then, she said, she did “The ‘Voice of the Goddess’ from backstage, acknowledging sponsors and reminding people to turn off their cell phones and other electrical devices.”
All of this has been quite the achievement, especially considering Fran’s involvement with the BSO came about through happenstance. Indeed, it began when a good friend of hers, Ingrid, moved to Brevard.
Fran had always planned to devote her life to the arts, she never had the long range goal to become an executive director for a symphony orchestra. She attended the University of South Dakota where she received a degree in arts management and a theater degree in directing.
She moved here in 1981 and, that very night, became involved in our arts community.
“That night we were at a rehearsal for a show at Surfside Playhouse,” she said. “They said they needed a director, so I directed. That was back in the Neil-Simon-Is-God Days. Then all of a sudden one day I was looking at the paper and there was an ad for general manager at Indian River Players and I said ‘That’s me.’ I called them and asked if they had hired anyone yet. They said no. And I said I was on my way.”
That was 1984, when IRP performed in the old Airport Theatre, now demolished, and long before they changed their name to Melbourne Civic Theatre. Fran’s late husband, Richard “Mouch,” worked with IRP’s group of volunteers called the “Over the Hill Gang.” Led by Broadway theater technician legend Peter Feller, they turned the old Ruth Henegar School into what is now the Henegar Center.
“I was there when they tore the back of the building off to build the stage,” Fran said.
While she enjoyed the challenge of helping a theater grow into a big new home, she was offered the job of general manager of the BSO in 1993 and jumped at the chance to work with them.
“Working with the BSO an experience I just did not want to miss,” she said. “It was deep down something I knew I wanted to do and hopefully could make a difference.”
My guess is that in very short order, Fran will be making her valuable presence felt again by some other lucky organization. There’s no box of bon bons in her future.
“I’m not the kind of person who can sit and do nothing,” she says.