In Memoriam: Pete Happe

May 8, 2020

Harold (Pete) Happe April 27, 1943 – May 4, 2020
Some remembrances from USITT Fellow Tim Kelly

A little magic has gone out of the world when Pete Happe passed away in hospital near his La Crescenta, CA home Monday, May 4. Edie, Pete’s wife of 54 years, said he waged a determined battle but his lungs, oxygen level and heart finally succumbed to the inevitable.  This was not the COVID19 that has been ravaging the planet as he’d been tested a number of times for the virus.  After cremation, Pete’s ashes will be interred beside those of his beloved daughter, Roberta.

Post growing up and some college in Minnesota, Pete moved to Denver where he attended Denver University. After graduating in 1971, he started his long and varied career in the entertainment business.  In the late 60s he kicked off his professional career as lighting designer / production manager for the Colorado Music Hall.  Another piece of his showbusiness career was as lighting designer and road manager for Max Morath, the ragtime piano man.  Off and on during the 70s he toured the United States with Max, “Living the Ragtime Life” and gaining the hard-earned knowledge of a roadie.

While working together at Denver’s Bonfils Theatre, Pete and I came to know Dave Hand who was the owner of Stage Engineering and Supply in Colorado Springs, CO.  Dave had been working in New York and learned about the initiation of a new organization, The United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT).  Dave, Pete, and I, along with several other Colorado theatre folks, established the Rocky Mountain Section of USITT.  This organization became a springboard for many of us who took on numerous leadership roles.  Pete was elected to National VP for Commissions where he graciously shared his engineering expertise with the Membership.  His tireless work in rigging safety and standards with USITT and ESTA have laid solid groundwork for current entertainment industry operations.

The call of the Left Coast beckoned Pete and Edie when Dave Hand suggested he apply to join the team at Walt Disney Imagineering.  In 1990 he started a career with WDI that lasted 25+ years and took him around the world designing and supervising construction, lighting and rigging for many of the Disney parks.  As Principal Theatrical Systems Designer he provided theatre consulting and design services for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Tokyo Disney Seas, Walt Disney Studio Park in Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland.

What a story.  Or, how many stories are there that Pete left for us to remember him by?  We are given great cause to celebrate this colleague, mentor, and friend.   He used to talk about his time in the Coast Guard, flying over the Gulf of Mexico, looking at “pretty much nothing” as he put it. Fueled by youthful exuberance, we brought a certain levity to the National USITT Conferences. Some might remember the Hot Tub Judging contests in Florida. Or perhaps the 3 – 5 – 10 games of chance in Oakland. But our coup de grace was when Dave Hand, Jimmy Robinson, Bob Brady, Bruce Jackson, Pete, and I (where their others?) established our conference lodging on a double decker houseboat moored just off the Corpus Christy Convention Center.  We had the owner take the carburetors off the boat’s engines so late-night waterskiing was not an option.

We will miss the unmistakable smile, the rye sense of humor, the wisdom, the compassion, the fact that Pete was in it for all of us.  I am sad until I pull up one of the grand memories, then I am Happe.