Shelby About Town
In the party fast lane, Houstonians kicked up their heels and raised a ton for worthy causes
It's been one heck of a ride on the social scene since the clock struck midnight at the start of 2010. For Houstonians in the mood to play, the options have been endless and almost ridiculously varied. From waltzing in white-tie-and-tails across the dance floor in Wortham Theater Center to counting tattoos and body piercings at Spacetaker's Apocalypto "gala," there truly has been something for everyone.
The winter/spring party season ramped up with unexpected energy the first half of the year and then, as is tradition, it came to a screeching halt last week, as if the party bus had just gone over a cliff. This welcome breather between seasons gives us a chance to look back and ruminate on the spectacle of Houston charitable fundraising January through May.
If one thing marked the realm of fancy frocks and black-ties, it was individual generosity — an unprecedented spurt of seven-figure giving. While there have been major donations well into the millions by individuals throughout the years, this is the first that we recall in which specific gifts were made by individuals in association with specific galas.
Oilman Oscar Wyatt was first out of the shoot last month with a $1 million gift to Houston Grand Opera in honor of his wife, Lynn Wyatt, the opera's "Yellow Rose Ball" honoree. Two weeks later, trial lawyer Joe Jamail gifted Rice University's Baker Institute with $1 million in honor of his pal, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, ata black-tie benefit celebrating Baker's 80th birthday.
And, finally, oilman George Mitchell chose the UTHealth inaugural awards dinner, "A Celebration of Transformation and Hope," to announce a $1.5 million matching gift to the University of Texas Health Science Center to create an Alzheimer's research center. (His wife, Cynthia Woods Mitchell, died earlier in the year from Alzheimer's.)
Hey, big spender
Probably the most exciting evenings in terms of fundraising and individual giving came earlier this month when a bidding war for a George Rodrigue "Blue Dog" painting resulted in a $180,000 windfall for Friends for Life, the no-kill animal shelter. The bidding began at an impressive $20,000 and quickly escalated as Don Sanders and David Sutherland-Yoest competed for the work. Guests in the River Oaks Country Club ballroom went wild as the numbers rose and rose until Sutherland-Yoest made the final bid and then caused an even greater stir when he presented the painting to Sanders.
Sanders and his wife, Chris, had underwritten all expenses of the benefit so the non-profit went home with more than $600,000.
Another trend that cannot be denied — one that Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue both adore — is the penchant for luncheon hat, and even the occasional cocktail hat. We saw scores of luncheon hats this season starting with the United Cerebral Palsy "Hats Off to Mothers" benefit, continuing with the Hermann Park Conservancy's "Hats in the Park" event and on through the various Kentucky Derby Parties.
For evening, Lynn Wyatt stepped out at the Houston Ballet ball in a cocktail hat. She opened the doors and others followed through the spring
And we love it that the gents are just as likely to get into the act as the ladies. Consider the number of snazzy hats worn by a dozen or so men at the "Hats in the Park" event.
The season launched with a major party bang thanks to Judy and Glenn Smith, who rang in the New Year with a whopping blowout at the Hilton Americas-Houston. Their private party for hundreds of friends began with a two-hour musical blitz from New York show band Starlight Experience and continued with Franki Valli and the Four Seasons crooning all the way to midnight. Once the mylar confetti had cleared, a curtain at the end of the ballroom opened to reveal the Eagles, who performed a 90-minute concert for the stunned crowd.
On a different note, for the 200 guests ponying up the big bucks to attend the UNICEF black-tie dinner at the home of John and Becca Cason Thrash, it was an evening of high glamour and serious fundraising. By night's end and with the help of UNICEF celeb ambassador Lucy Liu, $750,000 was raised. Not bad for a little dinner held in a private home where profusions of candles and flowers and designer-clad fashionistas created a lavish tableau of Houston riches.
Charity benefits raised serious dollars in every venue imaginable from the veddy civilized Buffalo Bayou Partnership dinner held in a swell party tent erected on the Sabine Street Bridge to the irreverent "Be the Ball" party that Glasstire and Fresh Arts Coalition held at the Hermann Park Golf Center.
While museums typically play host to fundraising events, this year, libraries entered the fray. The Houston Public Library's historic Julia Ideson Building was scene to a "Hard Hat Tea," attended by both Mayor Annise Parker and Barbara Bush. Earlier this month, the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Studies hosted the Houston Library Foundation's third annual "Party in the Stacks," although this Sunday afternoon fundraiser took place on the grounds of the recently-refurbished library.
And let's not forget the recent Alley Theatre gala held two weeks ago in the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport, the perfect venue for the "Jet Setters Ball."
The Houston Polo Club, the Houston Zoo, the Orange Show, Tootsies, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Saint Arnold Brewery, the St. Thomas High School baseball field, even Tilman Fertitta's backyard — all have served as the setting for serious fundraising efforts.
In fact, in my personal calendar I counted 188 charity events that took place all across the city from January through May and that does not include the myriad kickoff parties, underwriter dinners and the like and it doesn't include a slew of charities that were slow to discover the CultureMap e-mail address. We can hardly wait to join the party fray in the fall and we anticipate even more events on our dance card in the years to come.
But pardon me in the meantime, I'm taking off those party shoes and putting my aching feet up for a while.