The inaugural UNICEF Audrey Hepburn Society Ball celebrating the philanthropic work of Margaret Alkek Williams was an evening of memorable firsts. Not only was Williams honored with the first Audrey Hepburn Society Philanthropist of the Year Award, but UNICEF also established the Margaret Alkek Williams Humanitarian Award, to be given to future local philanthropic leaders.
The preferred attire was white-tie and the glamorous crowd complied donning gala finery including opera-length gloves, full ball gowns and, in a nod to Audrey Hepburn, the modern bun was the hairstyle of choice.
Williams’ dazzling emerald green couture gown came straight from a designer atelier in Rome, specially for the evening, which began in the Wortham Theater.
Desperate Housewives and Dallas star Jesse Metcalfe served as emcee for the elegant event which included performances by the Houston Ballet, Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera, which presented an a capella version of "Moon River" from the Audrey Hepburn film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
“This is about helping children on a global level. If I can use my celebrity to make a difference, I will."
Audrey Hepburn’s son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, presented Williams with her award and his remarks likening Williams to his mother were a sincere and touching tribute.
“My mother wanted to give back as a way to return the good fortune she had experienced. Like my mother, Margaret serves to remind us what people are capable of,” he said.
For her part, Williams was quietly gracious, saying she was honored to continue the legacy of her family. Albert Alkek’s donation of $25 million to Baylor College of Medicine in the 1980s began the family’s dedication to charitable giving to medical institutions. It was fitting then that Williams’ $1 million donation to UNICEF supports the Baylor International Pediatrics AIDS Initiative and led to the creation of the UNICEF's Audrey Hepburn Society in the United States.
The evening wasn’t all reserved gaiety though. After all, it is Houston, and when the operatic boy band Il Volo wowed the gala-goers with their three-song set, the well-heeled crowd rewarded them with cheers and a standing ovation. Before hopping a plane to Toronto, the teen trio went off script in a cute mix of English and Italian.
“This is a real pleasure and important for Ms. Williams who has done so much,” Ignazio Boschetto said.
Metcalfe also took a few liberties at the podium, at one point discussing Houston’s reputation as the energy capital, but noting the lack of energy in the room and then later saying how much Houstonians like to eat. He offered a mea culpa during dinner in Wortham Center Grand Foyer that followed the program in the theater.
“Not to undercut Houston a second time,” Metcalfe said. “Houston is a great city and is a special place for me because my girlfriend’s family is from here . . . Houston has a giving heart.”
Wrapped in Metcalfe’s tuxedo jacket, girlfriend Cara Santana said her parents are from Houston and being in town for the UNICEF gala was a bit of homecoming.
Metcalfe is planning a UNICEF trip in April 2014 to either Africa or South America to continue the work of the organization.
“This is about helping children on a global level. If I can use my celebrity to make a difference, I will,” Metcalfe said.
The evening capped off with a five-sorbet birthday cake straight from the Candyland board game and choruses of “Happy Birthday” to Williams.
Chaired by Donna and Robert Bruni, Molly and Jim Crownover, Rose and Harry Cullen Sr., Dr. Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein, Nancy Calles and Dr. Mark Kline, Leela and Nat Krishnamurthy, Penny and Paul Loyd and Tara and David Wuthrich, the gala raised more than $650,000. Joanne King Herring served as honorary chair.
Also making the glam scene were Lynn Wyatt on the arm of son Steve Wyatt, Diane Lokey Farb, Dikembe Mutombo, Pat Breen, Kimberly DeLape, Phoebe Tudor, Monsour Taghdisi, Mark Sullivan and an fun girl’s night out table comprised of Deborah Duncan, Alicia Smith, Ericka Bagwell, Ursaline Hamilton and Anne Carl.