Singer, Cattle Rancher, Filmmaker Set for SHHS Alumni Induction

Songwriter, Cattle Rancher, Filmmaker Set for SHHS Hall of Honor Induction
Posted on 08/25/2015
This is the image for the news article titled Songwriter, Cattle Rancher, Filmmaker Set for SHHS Hall of Honor Induction

*Larry Willoughby's "Building Bridges"... CLICK HERE

*Bill Hughes' "Matt Mercury -- Plot of the Galactic Mastermind" trailer... CLICK HERE

South Houston High's 2015 Alumni Hall of Honor inductees: Larry Willoughby, Class of 1969; Bob Garner, Class of 1971; and Bill Hughes, Class of 1980.

side photoThree South Houston High School graduates, all entrepreneurs with a passion to entertain, have been selected for induction this fall in the school’s Alumni Hall of Honor.

Chosen for induction are Larry Willoughby, a Grammy-nominated songwriter and Nashville record executive; Bob Garner, a Central Texas rancher and host of a popular spring bash for Trojan alumni; and Bill Hughes, an award-winning sci-fi illustrator and filmmaker.

Willoughby graduated from South Houston in 1969, Garner in 1971 and Hughes in 1980.

The three will be honored during Homecoming festivities on Oct. 16 along with three former teachers selected earlier this summer for induction in the school’s Faculty and Staff Hall of Honor. The teachers are Barbara Coon, a physics teacher and counselor during her South Houston tenure; Ella Gauthier, a math teacher and success coordinator; and George Neal, a law enforcement instructor and coach.

Willoughby, Garner and Hughes will bring to 76 the number of South Houston alumni who have been inducted into the Hall of Honor since the program was launched nearly five years ago. The number of teachers inducted will rise to 26 with the addition of Coon, Gauthier and Neal.

All three alumni inductees remain active in their chosen professions.

Willoughby is currently vice present of A&R (artists and repertoire) for Capitol Records’ Nashville division. In that position, he has helped shaped the careers of numerous country recording stars, among them Keith Urban, Trace Atkins and Deana Carter.

Garner, in addition to his ranching enterprises, owns three pool and lake management companies in Texas. A navy veteran with 15 years of active service, Garner served two tours in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, receiving numerous decorations and service awards.

Hughes has redirected his love of comic books and science fiction into an independent filmmaking career. He recently expanded his 2005 short film, “Matt Mercury and his Rocket Rangers,” into a full-length, space comedy feature, released earlier this summer.

The film, “Matt Mercury – Plot of the Galactic Mastermind,” was recently nominated for best special effects among independent productions by the Austin Revolution Film Festival.

Active in choir and Future Farmers of America in high school, Willoughby joined the Houston Fire Department after graduation. He got his big break in the music business when he auditioned for country singer/songwriter Guy Clark and earned a spot as a guitar player and backup vocalist in Clark’s band. Under Clark’s guidance, Willoughby honed his own songwriting and performing skills.

Soon after, he landed a recording contract with Atlantic Records. His debut album, “Building Bridges,” rose to No. 47 on the Billboard magazine chart in 1984. The title track from the album reached No. 55 as a single -- but 12 years later took him to new heights.

The song was covered by Brooks & Dunn and rearranged with backing vocals from Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill. That version soared to No. 4 on the charts and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country Collaboration.

Willoughby spent several years on tour after the release of his “Building Bridges” album, then found himself drawn to the business side of country music. He signed on as tour manager for country stars Rodney Crowell – his cousin – and Rosanne Cash before moving in the direction of artist development.

After a stint as director of membership with ASCAP/Nashville, he was hired away for the spot of Director of A&R at MCA/Universal Records, a label featuring the talents of Gill, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Wynonna and Trisha Yearwood.

During Willoughby’s tenure, MCA outpaced all rivals in country music awards.  Even with his move to Capitol as vice president of A&R, he has kept a hand in songwriting. His songs have been recorded by such artists as Waylon Jennings, Eddy Raven, Big House, the Amazing Rhythm Aces, Nicolette Larson and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Willoughby is married to the former Janet Howard, also a 1969 South Houston graduate.

BOB GARNER, Class of 1971
Garner, a football trainer and choir member during his high school days, has owned and developed three ranches since completing his naval career in 1995, the latest located outside Goldthwaite, Texas. At the same time, he founded and built two corporations – Lone Star Pool Management and Lone Star Lake Management – into industry leaders.

His lake management firm is the state’s second largest. He also established Lone Star Lifeguards to train nearly 300 lifeguards per season for his pool management firm.

It was in 2004, while operating a ranch outside of Hempstead, that Garner hosted his first “Edgebrook Reunion,” a weekend bonfire bash for South Houston High alumni from the 1960s and 1970s. With organizational help from classmate Martha Collins Manuel, Garner hosted around 300 alumni, spouses and friends at his ranch that year – the start of what has become a spring tradition, since moved to Garner’s ranching operations near Goldthwaite.

Garner’s reunions are credited with sparking renewed interest in alumni activities at South Houston and for providing momentum that helped lead to the creation of the school’s new Alumni Association and the Hall of Honor itself.

BILL HUGHES, Class of 1980
Hughes honed his writing and drawing skills while a staffer on the South Houston student newspaper. Growing up close to NASA and inspired by sci-fi productions with as “Star Trek,” “Lost in Space” and “Planet of the Apes,” Hughes enjoyed a creative surge with the release of “Stars Wars” in 1977.

While still at South Houston, he produced his first illustrated story, “Manhattan Rogers and his Flying Devil-Doggie Commandoes.” After graduation, he attended the University of Houston and started his own caricature business at Astroworld.

While at UH, he produced his first full-length comic book, based on the same “Manhattan Rogers” character. Later, after entering an art contest with a cartoon drawing of a pirate, he landed a deal to turn his cartoon subject into a comic book series, the “Voyages of the SheBuccaneer.”

In 1996, his association with the publisher led to an opportunity to illustrate and design a “Star Wars” brand book, “Droids,” for Dark Horse Comics.

In 2005, in partnership with wife Heidi, Hughes ventured into independent filmmaking. His first “Matt Mercury” short proved a hit with critics and won several awards.

Hughes launched his own studio, “WonderVista,” and began to branch out from sci-fi. A deal with the cowboy band Riders in the Sky led to a series of band coloring books, a comic book telling the story of the Alamo and an animated version of the comic book. That project continued with James Drury, former star of the TV series “The Virginia,” joining the cast as Buffalo Bill Cody. Hughes also launched a website,, that offers bible stories for children.

Hughes’ “Matt Mercury” creation remains his franchise. Plans are in the works for an animated series based on the film, a series of novels and a video game.

Alumni and teacher inductees will be honored at a special reception during Homecoming Open House activities on Oct. 16. The Open House will begin at 10:30 a.m. with the grand opening of South Houston High’s new Hall of History, a campus museum featuring photos and memorabilia of the school’s first 53 years.

A courtyard picnic will follow with the Hall of Honor reception set for 12:30 p.m. and a student/alumni pep rally at 1:45.

The inductees will be honored again during ceremonies preceding the Trojans’ Homecoming Game against Pasadena that same night. Ceremonies begin at 6:30 p.m. with the kickoff at 7.