It might be the most glorious gala of the season.
The Andy Roddick Foundation has found a new mission: Using tennis as part of a program of essential life couching. It has welcomed a new director: Impressive Richard Tagle, who takes over from the transformational Jeff Lau. Last week, the group that has raised $11 million for children’s causes in just a few years staged its best gala ever.
Start with the well-drilled ACL Live staff and the spectacular food from W Austin Hotel. Mix in media, sports, music, business and other figures in a relaxed cocktail setting, then gathered around talkative tables, which in my case included Lau’s family and his girlfriend from New York.
Then add stage magic: Elton John at top form, playing, not just for the dinner guests, whose bidding pushed the net take for the event over $1 million by one early estimate, but also for adoring fans who filled the mezzanine and balcony. I was so close to Sir Elton, I could count his sequins. He sang and played song after song as if it were a command performance for each of us.
Distressing SafePlace speeches
One heart-wrenching speech would have been enough. Two doubled the powerful impact.
At the SafePlace celebration luncheon, the attention never strayed to the food or service. Instead, two speakers talked about their personal experiences with domestic violence. Actor and former football player Victor Rivas Rivers has written a memoir, “A Private Family Matter,” about his harrowing childhood with a Cuban-American father who tortured the whole family. He’s now a national spokesman on the subject.
The second testimony came from a Texas woman whose dear aunt was killed by her boyfriend. My nearest tablemate was an Austin woman whose sister was killed by her husband. They are not public figures, so I’ll withhold their names for now.
Too much? Nope. It’s all about surviving.
Waller Creek garden party
The rollout for the Waller Creek Conservancy has been deliberate and determined. And for good reason.
The group’s power trio, Tom Meredith, Melba Whatley and Melanie Barnes, were drafted by public officials because they are veterans of major campaigns. And it will take more than $100 million in public and private funds, according to some estimates, to fully realize the vision of Waller Creek as an urban jewel.
Last week, a garden party was held amid the magnificent hillside landscapes of James David and Gary Pease. The innovative home and studio built above a creekbed in West Lake Hills were designed by Mel Lawrence. There, I met Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, founding president of the Central Park Conservancy, one of the key models for the Waller Creek group. Rogers comes from a Texas family who owns a ranch out in the Hill Country. Must get to know her — and her work — better.
Shaking up the Austin Community Foundation
Last week, the Austin Community Foundation did not gather at the Four Seasons Hotel, as it had for years, and did not exhibit a biographical video of the honorees.
Instead, we met at the Circuit of the Americas, where portions of the vast press hall were cordoned off for dinner guests. A goodly number had never visited the F1 site and so toured the tower and a portion of the track. Inside, all sorts of longtime charity backers mingled, then sat for a series of speeches, including an enlightening history lesson about the group’s founding in the 1970s (more on that in a later article).
All you need to know right now is that the charitable group started with a $30,000 gift and and has since given away $200 million in grants. Esther’s Follies provided the sprightly, timely and topical entertainment for this gala. The Austin Children’s Shelter, whose mission has changed radically in the past few years due to shifts in state policy, was honored, as were Central Texas royalty Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin. (During her speech, one could imagine Luci as a U.S. senator.)
U.S. Grand Prix toast
One mega-fest done. Another begins. The United States Grand Prix won’t roar onto the award-winning tracks at the Circuit of the Americas for another month, but the start of the season was toasted last week at ACL Live.
A few hundred guests gathered over savory treats and the newly invented COTA Flame cocktails to hear founding partners Red McCombs and Bobby Epstein talk about global races, parties and concerts past and future, then listen to F1 greats Mario Andretti and David Sims recall the dangerous heyday of grand prix races in the 1970s.
Got chills watching the race preview, as well as the movie trailer for Ron Howard’s “Rush,” which isn’t doing so well at the box office. (Moment of truth early in the evening: McCombs admits he was waved off Austin originally as a shaky place to do business.)
Seton Breast Care Center park party
It was a clean, clear — and yet heartfelt — campaign. In just three years, Marcia Levy, Susan Lubin and friends raised $6.6 million to build the Seton Breast Care Center. Their original goal was $6.5 million.
Last week at a celebratory party blessed by heavenly weather in Bailey Park, the dynamic duo told me they want Austin’s combined care center to rival those of New York, Los Angeles, Boston and St. Louis.
Before the pink balloons fell, Sister Gertrude offered a gentle prayer and Seton chief Jesus Garza praised the crusade for “putting people at the center of care.”