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David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary

19 May 2010

On the planet in New York

Then last night, at the Pierre, The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center held its 3rd annual Spring Ball, sponsored by David Yurman jewelers. This particular evening is many things in the scheme of things in New York. It was such a hot ticket that they sold out and had a Waiting List.

The SMSKCC is, like the Women In Conservation group of the Audubon Society, a prestigious organization, activist and dynamic, focusing on assisting change and transformation. They raise money for Memorial Sloan Kettering for its research and for many other matters related to the hospital.

Because of their work and their membership, this is one of the most sought after and alluring charitable organizations in the city. I use the word “alluring” measuredly because although their membership is open to anyone, their requirements are challenging to anyone who wishes to serve. They are serious. Their goals are serious and the matters they support are, like the conservationists, as serious -- and maybe even more specific -- as life and death. Much is expected of their volunteers, and much is garnered. As a result, they gather the troops and they march and fight.

Furthermore, as charitable events go, their annual do is a sparkling, glamorous affair. After all, this is New York, and their patrons are often from a wealthy and dynamic group. It was a fashion parade last night, as it always is, as you might expect of this crowd, with many of the faces that you’ve seen many times on the NYSD, and many of the women dressed in the fashions that predominate the day.

The ballroom of the Pierre, for example, was decorated by Bronson van Wyck of Van Wyck and Van Wyck (son, daughter, mother), known for their ingenuity, creativity and their Environmental Design and Event Production. Bronson and his partners possess the ability to amaze and astonish, and last night they did. That stuff you see floating mid-air in the pictures are butterflies (not real butterflies, don’t worry), creating a mood, a lightness, a colorama directing your eye to the stage which would be occupied by none other than Mary J. Blige, who had agreed to perform for the guests/contributors to the cause.

Heather Leeds, president of SMSKCC opened the evening, welcoming everybody and acknowledging the co-chairs Tory Burch, Shelley Carr, Dee Dee Ricks and Jamie Tisch. It was Tory Burch, through her friend, music executive Lyor Cohen, who was able to interest Mary J. Blige into performing. This was a coup. There were 450 guests. I’ve never seen the Pierre ballroom as packed.

Honorary Chairs for the evening were Constance Casey and Dr. Harold Varmus (Mr. and Mrs. in real life) and Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Warner III. The honoree was Dr. Charles L Sawyers, Chair of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at MSKCC.

Dr. Varmus, who has worked with Dr. Sawyers for quite some time, described the honoree as a scholar from a farm boy background whose research in the subject of leukemia had made enormous strides in the development of drugs to cause remission of the disease.

Dr. Sawyers has the reputation for being a modest fellow who has made gigantic achievements in his field. Indeed, when he accepted his award, he reported to the audience that on this same day, his wife Susan had just completed her Masters at the Columbia School of Journalism, of which he was most proud.

The subject of the doctors was Human Genome Sequencing, something pioneered by Dr. James Watson, discoverer of the Double Helix/DNA. All of this remains a mystery and a miracle to this writer so forgive the vagueness of my descriptions. What is evident is that by Sequencing of the human genome, scientists can discover the flaws and weaknesses in an individual’s make-up and the diseases that are subject to those weaknesses can be treated accordingly.

When Human Genome sequencing was first made possible/created by Dr. Watson, the cost of an individual sequencing was $1 million. Today, only a few years later, that number is down to $30 – 50,000. Last night Jamie Niven, Sotheby’s Executive VP, long active in MSKCC as a volunteer/supporter, held an “auction” (for want of a better word) raising an additional $350,000 (besides the total of $1.5 million) for additional Sequencings.

After the presentations, then came the show. Mary J. Blige, the icing on the cake. She opened with Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” This was followed by three more songs to point where the room automatically rose to its feet. They moved to the dance floor which soon was crowded to capacity, and the evening rocked on afterwards to the tunes of DJ Cassidy. What a night.

Among those in the crowd along with the Co-chairs, Ms. Blige, Heather and Tom Leeds, Muffie and Dr. Sherrell Aston, Chappy and Melissa Morris, Michael and Eleanora Kennedy, Debbie Bancroft, Giney Burke, Lesly Smith, Michel Witmer, Derek and Nicole Limbocker, Chris and Sherman Meloni, Tara and Michael Rockefeller, Alexandra Kotur, Sara and Charles Ayres, Elizabeth Fekkai, Kirk Henckels and Fernanda Kellogg, Anne Keating, Dana and Richard Kirshenbaum, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder, Lee Niven, Marjorie Gubelmann, Peter and Jamee Gregory, Karen and Richard LeFrak, Alexia Hamm Ryan, Marty and Jean Shafiroff, Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, Tory Burch and Lyor Cohen, Jamie Tisch, Mario Grauso, Gigi and Avi Mortimer, Renee Rockefeller, Caryn and Jeff Zucker, Ashley and Jeff McDermott, Julia and David Koch, Phil Geier, Arie and Coco Kopelman, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, Jay and Tracy Snyder, Helene and Roman Martinez, Ruth Fleischmann, Bettina Zilkha, Alexandra Lebenthal and Jay Diamond, Couri Hay, Yaz and Valentin Hernandez, Jim Brodsky, Roberto and Joanne de Guardiola, Jennifer Creel, Betty Ann Gwathmey, Dee Dee Ricks, Hilary Dick, Richard and Marcia Mishaan, Alison Minton, and on and on into the glorious night; a great night for all.