Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Barbara Hooton

Honored June, 2009

Barbara Cattin Hooton

As a young married woman living a sophisticated life in New York City in the early 1950s, Barbara Hooton, with her husband Bill, passed through Santa on a vacation. At once they were smitten, and went back to make their exit from big-city life, which included television stars, authors and other celebrities. They returned in 1954, and began making things happen in their new home.

Their first project was a dude ranch in Tesuque called Rancho del Monte, which later became Rancho Encantado. Barbara cooked, led tours, taught children to ride horses and did whatever else was needed. In time she collaborated with writer Patrick Dennis, of Auntie Mame renown, to write a hilarious book called Guestward Ho! about her experiences. The book became a television series.

After selling the dude ranch, the Hootons went on to other things. Bill helped start Santa Fe’s United Fund, and then they decided to open a restaurant on Canyon Road. They named it The Compound, and at the time it was Santa Fe’s only truly elegant dining place. The Hootons helped open the Santa Fe campus of St. John’s College and Santa Fe Prep School. Eventually they sold the restaurant, and then left for a while to direct theater companies in other parts of the country. But Santa Fe kept calling them back

Shortly after returning, Bill died. Taking not a minute to feel sorry for herself, Barbara sought a new project. She found the Santa Fe Community Housing Trust, a brand-new organization dedicated to enabling low-income people to buy their own homes. She became the Trust’s second employee, its office manager. She stayed with the Trust for 15 years, watching it grow into a multi-million-dollar operation, helping many hundreds of clients purchase houses.

Barbara was instrumental in establishing the Shakespeare in the Park program. She looked after dying friends. She continued the brilliant and legendary parties that she and Bill hosted. Barbara’s supporters paid her many tributes: “A heavenly sense of humor--we laughed 90 percent of the time” “An action animal.” “The most positive outlook on life of anyone I‘ve ever known.” “Calmness in any situation.” “Contagious cheer and seductive charm.” And: “A gift of light to all who know her, and to the whole world.”

Story by Richard McCord

Photo © 2009 by Genevieve Russell