With 725 black-tie attired guests dining in tented splendor beneath a score of crystal chandeliers, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy celebrated its 20th anniversary in grand style Friday night. Two former U.S. presidents — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — led the impressive coterie of guests that raised a remarkable $3.4 million, and counting.
George W. Bush was featured guest, interviewed in a fireside-style chat by Baker Institute founding director Ed Djerejian. The conversation covered a variety of topics in what many Bush observers noted was his most candid and open discussion since leaving the White House. Topics introduced by Djerejian included Bush's perspectives on the presidency, the economic recovery and immigration. The former president recalled his emotions on 9/11. And he touched on his relationships with foreign leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The stellar evening was befitting of the institute that enjoys one of the highest rankings among global think tanks.
The program included a welcome from Rice University president David Leebron, remarks by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and presentation of the James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership. That honor went to former Iranian statesman, businessman and philanthropist Hushang Ansary, who was accompanied to the stage by his wife Shahla.
The stellar evening was befitting of the institute that enjoys one of the highest rankings among global think tanks. Kudos for the evening go to the trio of chair couples — Cynthia and Bucky Allshouse, Phoebe and Bobby Tudor and Sheridan and John Eddie Williams. Hats off to The Events Co.'s Richard Flowers, who brought the chairs' high-level wishes for the evening to reality.
For example, the white glove dinner service featured contributions from some of the city's leading chefs — Bryan Caswell, Michael Cordua, Hugo Ortega, Monica Pope, Chris Shepherd and Philip Speer — in an unprecedented dinner presentation. Far Niente chardonnay, Silver Oak cabernet and Comte de Mazeray champagne complemented the various courses. Such quality wines are seldom seen at charitable fundraisers.
The head table was a powerhouse of notables, including former President George W.H. Bush and Barbara Bush, George W. Bush, the Djerejians, the Bakers, the Ansarys, the Leebrons and Jenna Bush Hager and Henry Hager.
Among the many, many heavy-hitters joining the celebration were two past recipients of the Excellence in Leadership Award, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair and Charles Duncan, businessman, philanthropist and statesman during President Jimmy Carter's administration.
At every turn there were philanthropists, business leaders and high-profile citizenry including Mayor Annise Parker and Kathy Hubbard, Anne and Albert Chao, Nancy and Rich Kinder, Jeri and Marc Shapiro, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Warren Tichenor and wife Rhonda, Molly Crownover, Peggy and Bill Barnett, Cynthia and Tony Petrello, Margaret Alkek Williams, Elizabeth and Malcolm Gillis, Linda and Dr. Walter McReynolds, Kristen and Lee Nix, Joanne King Herring and Heidi Cruz, wife of Sen. Ted Cruz.