David Patrick Columbia's New York Social Diary

3 May 2012

Celebrating the 30th annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon

Thursday, May 3, 2012. Grey, rainy and otherwise overcast. Chilly and damp. 

Yesterday was also the 30th annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon in the Conservatory Garden of Central Park. Readers know it mainly as the Hat Lunch because it has become tradition to wear a hat. The women are as fashionable as ever. What is different is that many of them are wearing hats and many of those hats are very creative and even amazing. The spirit of it makes me laugh. It's funny and fun and all meant in the best of ways. There's a pride in it all; and everyone wins.

The FLO Luncheon is a fund-raiser created by the Women's Committee of the Central Park Conservancy. This Committee raises millions every year to help maintain Central Park which is now, after all the Committee's efforts over the decades, the jewel in the crown of New York City and specifically Manhattan.

This revitalization of Central Park and now all the Parks throughout the City, began as a seed planted by one Elizabeth Barlow Rogers (known to all as Betsy Barlow Rogers), who was the first Parks Administrator, appointed by Mayor Koch. She was at the forefront of the then new mayor's objective in revitalizing the city.

Mrs. Rogers is a landscape architect and teacher. She is one of those who is impassioned by her interests. She is credited with the idea for starting a Conservancy to oversee the health of the Park. It was also her idea to create a Woman's Committee to assist the undertaking. I can't think of a more successful and monumentally rewarding civic undertaking anywhere.

It started with Mrs. Rogers taking the job in 1979. They started small. There were four founding committee members: Jean Clark, Norma Dana, Marguerite Hillman Purnell and Phyllis Cerf Wagner. It was not an overnight transformation. It took not only the work but marketing the vision to recruit volunteers and donations. New Yorkers had lost contact with what the Park was and was meant to be. The Women's Committee is also one of the great executive committees of the city. Thirty-three years later, their achievement is the jewel.

This year Anne Harrison, the current president of the Women's Committee honored Gillian Miniter and J P Morgan (the bank) for their ardent and longtime support of the Conservancy. Gillian has been working for the Park in several capacities – President of the Women's Committee, Chairman of Playground Partners; co-chair of two FLO Luncheons. During Gillian's term as president (2009 – 2011) she helped more than $13 million for Central Park.

JP Morgan has also been an active supporter since the Conservancy's inception. Already one of the Conservancy's largest corporate donors, in 2009, JP Morgan donated $1 million for the restoration to restore areas of Central Park devastated by a severe storm, enabling the restoration of 300 acres.

The rest of the time was The Hats and the Lunch. Tiffany sponsored so you see that Tiffany blue around and about, including the tote bag that was the goodie bag; and the umbrella – which everyone needed.

The luncheon menu, provided by Abigail Hirsch Catering Relationships, was Chilled Asparagus Vichyssoise with Parmesan Panna Cotta; Conservancy Cobb Salad with Truffled Deviled Egg; Duo of Miniature Sundaes, Lemon Raspberry and Cappuccino Crunch.

First two courses were excellent. The dessert I skipped.

There is an excitement in the air at this lunch. I can't recall when I first came to it but it must have been ten or more years ago. It really began to solidify in the early 2000s. They raised more money each year and they recruited more hard working dedicated members. These girls are serious. Betsy Barlow Rogers set the tone and it has remained. It is an important experience in the lives of these women.

I like this annual lunch because it's funny. It makes me laugh. The women really turn out. They dress up for the occasion. What a pleasure, all around. You don't see much of that anymore. Here you do. It's that old line: Best Foot Forward; and so it is. There's a spirit in it and a spirit to it; a humor and jubilation of the play. This is theatre, the life of the metropolis, and it's the best ticket in town. They also took in $3.5 million for the cause.

Leaving the luncheon, I walked down Fifth Avenue for several blocks in the low 100s, on the Park side. I took one shot, hardly sufficient, of the countryside on the other side of the wall. It was magic. The sweeping lawns and walks and knolls and rock formations, all under the moisture and the mist of the rainy day. It's an astounding affirmation. Even if only for a minute ...

We're going to run photos today and tomorrow. JH's were today and then mine follow on Friday.