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Former Washington Opera Trustee Eyed as Next Chair of N.Y.'s Met

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2005; Page C01

Christine Hunter, who was one of the Washington National Opera's most generous and active trustees over the course of three decades, is in line to replace Beverly Sills as chairman of the board of New York's Metropolitan Opera, sources close to Hunter and the Met said yesterday.

Hunter has already been named acting chairman, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they plan to continue doing business with the ultra-private Met. The permanent title is expected to be ratified at a board meeting later this spring. Hunter is currently chairman of the executive committee of the Met.

Sills, who followed a dazzling operatic career with 25 all-but-unmatched years as a cheerleader and fundraiser for the arts in America, resigned from the Met last month. She cited a fractured knee -- her third fracture in a year -- and the necessity of placing her husband, retired businessman Peter Greenough, in a nursing home.

Hunter's principal residence is a waterfront estate in Easton, Md. She also has a home in the Bahamas, a pied-à-terre in Manhattan and, until recently, a co-op at the Watergate. She joined the Washington Opera board of trustees in 1974 and served as its president in the mid-1970s and through much of the 1980s. Described as charming and likable, but also reliably discreet, she was, in the word of one board member, "nobody's fool."

She and her husband, William T. Hunter Jr., are the directors of the Gramma Fisher Foundation in Marshalltown, Iowa. The foundation was established by Hunter's late father, J. William Fisher, in 1957, as a tribute to his mother, Edna, known in later life as "Gramma."

Hunter's father was the vice president and then the president of Fisher Controls, a family company that grew from a small industrial valve manufacturer to a $100 million-a-year international corporation. It was involved in the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bomb. It later merged with Monsanto, where Fisher ended his career serving as a board member. He died in 1990.

The Gramma Fisher Foundation has underwritten more than a dozen Washington Opera productions including "Fideli" in 2002-03, "Cosi Fan Tutte" in 2000-01, "Tosca" in 1999-2000, "Romeo et Juliette" in 1997-98, "Il Guarany" in 1996-97 and "Mefistofele" in 1995-96. Its first underwritten Washington Opera production was in 1972.

A spokesman for the Met called the reports of Hunter's appointment "rumors -- plausible rumors -- but rumors at this stage in the game." Phone messages left at four of Hunter's numbers were not returned.

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