“I hate to see anyone suffering,” Michelle Harper told The Observer yesterday evening at the Wall Street Journal’s inaugural Donor of the Day gala. Collectively, the assembled crowd shared Ms. Harper’s sentiment, though each chose to express their benevolence in idiosyncratic and often personalized ways.
Ms. Harper, the sides of her petite head freshly buzzed for the occasion, explained that she promotes arts education, partly as function of her own upbringing. “I was always blessed to grow up around art,” she said, her bright lips pursed in thought (or pose, perhaps).
Jeff Koons, the evening’s host, explained his personal history with the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “In 1994 my son was abducted, a parental abduction, and through that experience I ended up always just kind of trusting that everything would work out. That the judiciary would return my son home. It never happened,” he shared. Mr. Koons was, of course, referring to the knock-down, drag-out court battle between his former wife, adult film star La Cicciolina, who fled to Italy with their son.
“I just realized that I couldn’t help my son but I wanted to try to help other children, and so I got involved,” said Mr. Koons, speaking softly as his heavily pregnant wife, Justine, looked on. Mr. Koons admitted that personal tragedies often color our charitable inclinations. “Some of that comes from what happens to you in your life and your own personal events,” he said. “But across the board people care about their families and they care about children… I think almost everybody in some manner probably tries to help the rights of children.”
For author, businesswoman and philanthropist Tina Santi Flaherty, however, animal welfare takes precedence. After donating $2 million for a rehabilitation and fitness facility at the Animal Medical Center (where pampered pooches can receive Reiki massages and enjoy a hydrotherapy tub with whirlpool jets), Ms. Flaherty was featured in the Wall Street Journal’s “Donor of the Day” column. Her particular fondness for animals, dogs in particular, is based on unconditional love. “It feels so good to give love,” she said, describing fondly how she frequently dances with her beloved curs. “That was an important lesson to learn. And I thought that maybe I was the only one in the world that ever discovered that, but then I read that Carl Jung, you know, J-U-N-G, said the same thing, that it’s more important to give love than it is to receive love,” she said. When we asked about her fur collar, she giggled. “Oh—this was a mean fox. It was eating chickens.”
Susan Sarandon entered, wearing last season’s most coveted frock, a Stella McCartney mesh-polka-dot creation. The last time she wore the dress, she told photographers, she had won (or lost, rather) a magazine’s “who wore it worst” vote.
Guests soon sat down and enjoyed spring vegetable tartlets as Michael Rooney, the Wall Street Journal’s Senior Vice President, praised the selected donors and the newspapers readership at large. Wall Street Journal readers, he proudly proclaimed, donated nearly $6 billion to charity last year alone.
Ernie Allen, CEO of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, took the stage, lauding Mr. Koons as the “Andy Warhol of the 21st century.” As Mr. Allen spoke at length about the horrors of child abductions and juvenile pornography, several of our tablemates engaged in a lively discussion about Mr. Koon’s first wife. Bilateral hand gestures, indicating the international symbol for “large-breasted” were repeatedly used.
After roasted beef tenderloin, Brandi Carlile serenaded the assembled philanthropists.
Leaving the Whitney Museum, we noticed a placard had been placed by the entryway containing the full definition of philanthropy. “Goodwill to fellow members of the human race,” the entry began. Indeed, we exited full of goodwill and good food, hoping, however, the English lexicon would be updated so as to include Ms. Flaherty’s largesse toward quadrupedal community.