David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary

19 October 2010

Sunshine, blue skies

October 19, 2010. Beautiful autumn day in New York; sunshine, blue skies.

At noon JH and I went over to the Mandarin Oriental where the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy was holding its annual Fall Luncheon. This is an important luncheon event in charity/philanthropic circles in New York. The Women’s Committee was created by some enterprising can-do New York women in 1983 to clean-up and beautify Central Park, which at that point was a run-down, decrepit mess from lack of maintenance and attention.

That has all changed now. Through their various fund-raising projects (which includes the famous Hat Luncheon in the Spring and the Halloween Party coming up), they raise several million a year which covers about 20% of the cost of annual maintenance and upkeep for the Park.

The Mandarin Oriental’s ballroom on the 36th floor of the north tower is a great spot. It is well-managed by a young man named Arthur Bakal who provides an excellent and interesting menu with very good service. The room also has a most spectacular view of the south end of the Park, as well as Columbus Circle, Central Park South and Fifth Avenue up to the high sixties. At this time of the year, it’s just brilliant New York to look at.

It’s a fashionable lunch as are all the “important” luncheons in the city. Which is not to be confused with a fashion parade – that’s for the street and the restaurant crowds. It attracts a lot of the affluent and civic-minded (not to mention the social-minded). It is serious business because it involves leadership roles in the community. In New York there are several thousand people who are actively involved in philanthropic projects that influence and aid the community, health, environment, medical research, education, culture. As it is in any business or creative project, some are very talented for the executive roles they play.

It is interesting to observe the natural change which occurs as the older members began to move aside a bit, and the younger, newer members begin to take on the responsibilities. This year’s President of the Women’s Committee, Gillian Miniter, is an example of that.

Mrs. Miniter, who is active in several charities, assumed her executive role officially at this year’s Hat Luncheon. A young mother in her late 30s/early 40s, she is a member of the so-called younger successors group. She is also a natural executive, a natural no-nonsense problem-solver, I’ve noticed; one who can (and likes to) organize in an orderly fashion to attain an objective. She enjoys the challenge of getting big things done. The women who started this committee 27 years ago, require that. I would guess most of her successors all have those qualities. They could run major corporations. Or countries. (Only half-kidding.)

Timetable. People start arriving at 11:30 and are finally seated by 12:30. It’s a sellout. The tickets have always been individually sold, although this year they also sold tables and were very successful, especially with the younger (upcoming) group. This is an optimistic sign for those of us who worry about the future.

The luncheon was originally a pay-back/thank you to all the volunteers for their time and effort (and money). As their success in the Park fundraising grew, the lunch did too. This year they sold tickets and actually made it a fund-raiser. And they raised about $100,000 which goes right into the coffers of maintenance.

Four years ago they began a “speaker/interview” as entertainment. Eleanora Kennedy organized and directed it. Their first interview was this writer. The year after that Eleanora interviewed Evelyn Lauder, and last year, Candice Bergen. This year she interviewed Pamela Fiori, until recently the Editor-in-Chief of Town & Country.

The interviews all-encompassing. Where did you come from, how did you get here? What did you find? What do you think?

Pamela Fiori served as editor for 17 years. Before that she was editor of Travel & Leisure for more than a decade. Eleanora’s questions were about putting together the magazine, which is one of the most popular women’s magazines especially with the affluent. It’s been around for more than a century but Pamela was the first woman to be appointed to the job.

She grew up in an Italian-American “middleclass family” in New Jersey. Her father was a florist (His business sign read “Fiori Means Flowers” -- which is the Italian for it). It was a big, close family. I’ve known Pamela Fiori for as long as she’s been at T&C. She has a very steady, practical self-confidence that reflects that family she described. She is one who can make decisions and move on. When asked about how she felt about her success as a professional woman, she told us that she entered the business world looking for an opportunity to do something well and with satisfaction. And she found it. During her tenure as the first woman editor, she lifted the magazine out of a semi-somnambulant state into a very successful enterprise it once was.

In her years as editor at Town & Country she also developed with that position, a prominent place for herself in the business and social community. She is well known, either personally or publicly by everyone in the room, and acknowledged for her success.

The interview was completed by 1:45 and by two most were on their way home or elsewhere.

Alison Minton and Barbara Regna.