Mrs. Martha Rowan Hyder Courtesy of family
Mrs. Martha Rowan Hyder Courtesy of family

Fort Worth

Martha Rowan Hyder, a force behind the Cliburn competition, dies at 89

By Matthew Martinez

August 19, 2017 03:45 PM


Martha Rowan Hyder, a tireless advocate for the arts and a force in making the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition truly global, died Thursday in her home. She was 89.

Mrs. Hyder served on the executive committee of the competition from 1962 through 1993 and helped establish the Cliburn Council, which holds lectures, concerts and benefits in the competition’s off years. In those capacities, she became a citizen of the world while serving Fort Worth’s interests abroad.

“She wanted to decorate the world,” said Joe Minton, an interior designer, who lived across the street from Mrs. Hyder and her late husband, Elton M. Hyder Jr., in the Rivercrest neighborhood, from 1966-1986. “She really wanted to make the world more beautiful.”

To that end, she devoted much of her life to the arts, and in particular to the Cliburn competition. When the competition was in its infancy during the 1960s, she traveled the world, persuading dignitaries and the heads of other major piano competitions that the one she represented in her hometown of Fort Worth was equal to any of them.

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“We’ve had wonderful chairmen after her, but she set the standard,” said John Giordano, jury chairman emeritus for the Cliburn. “When I first came on board in 1973, the Cliburn had just had a very successful competition, but she asked me my recommendations for the future. When I told her, and this was so classic Martha, she said, ‘That’s wonderful, we’ll do that, and we’ll do more.’ 

Giordano, former conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, remembers a trip to China after the Cultural Revolution there in the 1970s. After a lengthy and grueling trip, he met with China’s minister of culture, whose first words to the maestro were: “How is Mrs. Hyder?”

A look back at the life and accomplishments of legendary pianist Van Cliburn (1934-2013). Video by Clif Bosler/Star-Telegram


But while he remembers her reach and her “innate ability to get things done,” he also remembers that she was the same friend who was able to make a few calls and get his U.S. passport replaced within hours after he had his pocket picked on a separate trip to London.

Doing more was a calling for Mrs. Hyder. She was vice president and trustee of the National Symphony in Washington, a member of the International Committee of the New York City Ballet, co-chair of the Northwood Albert Schweitzer Music Award in New York, a board member of Friends of Carnegie Hall and a member of the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies.

Locally, Mrs. Hyder served on the executive committees of the boards of directors for the Fort Worth Symphony and Fort Worth Art Museum. She was also a supporter of Planned Parenthood, CASA Women’s Clinic, and the Hospital of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

Friends say Mrs. Hyder was the “human internet,” her Rolodex teeming with resources for furthering the many causes that were the focus of her passion.

“She didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Minton said. “If she asked someone to give a dinner party for some visiting dignitary, they’d better watch out. They were going to end up doing it.”

As they were both notorious for keeping late hours, Minton said some of his fondest memories of Mrs. Hyder were late-night breakfasts eaten together at the home of the late Van Cliburn, for whom the international piano competition is named.

“We will all be eternally grateful for the pivotal role that Martha played in elevating the international status of the Van Cliburn, and her tireless dedication to achieving that goal,” said Carla Thompson, outgoing chairman of the board of the competition. “She wanted the Cliburn to be the best in the world and used everything at her disposal to raise its profile and promote its winners.”

The Hyder family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition or the Fort Worth Zoo.

Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667, @MCTinez817