Louise Peckham Todaro’s life in the arts included schooling and sharing the stage with Charlton Heston, Patricia Neal, Cloris Leachman and Paul Lynde. General Hospital creator Agnes Nixon was a sorority sister. Helen Hayes was a pal.
Todaro’s life-among-the-stars lifestyle began in a long-ago family room in her Chicago home.
Before high school and a career that would put her on the stage, the radio, and at the head of numerous arts organizations in Miami, Todaro started playing classical piano as a child. By 13, she folded pop and jazz into her repertoire so she could join her dad, Floyd Peckham, an osteopathic physician, and his brothers in their amateur band.
“I remember, as a child, going to sleep and hearing all that noise downstairs. I just loved it,” Todaro said in a 1983 Miami Herald profile that recounted her many contributions to the South Florida arts scene she served for more than 50 years: Past president of the Greater Miami Opera’s Young Patronesses of the Opera, an organization she joined in 1960; Miami Choral Society chairwoman, president of North Miami’s Society of the Arts.
Todaro, who died at age 90 on Sept. 20, also served 10 years as president of the board at Shores Theater and chairwoman of Florida International University’s CultureFest. She was president of the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida and created the YPO’s In-School Opera program in 1975 to introduce thousands of local children to the opera. Todaro produced the program until 2007 when she turned it over to her daughter, Julie Todaro, who, like her mom, sings and served as president of the YPO.
“My mother was a huge influence on my life as well as on the life of so many others. She touched the lives of so many children,” Julie Todaro said.
Todaro, born in Chicago on Aug. 12, 1924, was enriched by the arts during those early family moments. So she aimed to be a similar conduit to students from Miami-Dade schools in areas that often could not afford to host major productions.
“I really get a tremendous satisfaction out of bringing opera to young people,” Todaro said. “And not just bringing the arts to young people but bringing the arts, period, up here to Northeast Dade.”
Todaro might have been a star in her own right like her college chums if radio, and then volunteer work, hadn’t proven so fulfilling.
Todaro graduated from Northwestern University in 1945 with a degree in speech with an emphasis on theater and radio. She worked as a broadcaster, publicity director and radio columnist in Sioux City, Iowa, before she moved back to Chicago to become a radio writer and broadcaster for the American Osteopathic Association. There, she met the man who would be her husband for 49 years, the late Dr. Emil Todaro.
The couple moved to Miami in 1953 and had two daughters, Louise Todaro Sacks and Julie Todaro. She would still perform on stage and direct regional and community theater for decades.
“She played Auntie Mame at Northwestern and the music reviewer said she was ‘better than what we saw on Broadway,’ but she loved radio and writing scripts and presenting them on the air. Northwestern, at that time, was the place for all those amazing actors. Most of her contemporaries went to Hollywood but she wanted to do radio, for which I’m grateful because that’s where she met my dad. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here,” said Julie Todaro.
“She always said, ‘Life is a song title’ and that is so true,” said her daughter. “Her life philosophy was from one of her favorite songs, Accentuate the Positive. She truly lived that way.”
In addition to her daughters, Todaro is survived by her grandchildren Elizabeth and Alex Sacks. Services were held. Donations can be made in her name to the Young Patronesses of the Opera, 8390 NW 25th St., Miami, 33122.
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