Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gillian Miniter

Gillian Miniter (in pink) and fellow Co-chairs at the American Museum of Natural History's Fourteenth Annual Family Party. Oct, 2007.
By Nancy A. Ruhling

Before I can so much as remove my finger from the buzzer, the apartment door flies open, and I’m facing a bunch of people bundled up like snowmen. Bounding out are financier Sylvester Miniter and his children, 10-year-old Serena, who politely shakes my hand, and her shy brother, 6-year-old Quint, who keeps his tucked comfortably around his ocean-blue squishy football. A snowball of fur named – what else? – Fluffy comes running after them, followed by Gillian Miniter, a classic size-zero with emerald eyes and hair the color of summer sunshine.

Sylvester and Gillian with 6-year-old Quint and 10-year-old Serena
I’m caught off guard, because this is supposed to be mom’s day off. That’s why Gillian took care to set up this interview on a Sunday morning. Nobody else was going to be home because Sylvester was taking the kids to visit grandmother on Long Island. And, sure enough, that’s where they are off to – 30 minutes late.

When the troops leave, Gillian ushers me into the formal dining room, where on the 18th-Century mahogany table, she sets out two bottles of water, two cut-crystal glasses and a silver tin of bakery-fresh Christmas cookies that are shaped like a ballerina’s toe shoes. Iced in pastel yellow, blue and pink, they are too deliciously beautiful to eat. She had wanted to serve brunch, but reluctantly settled for water and cookies – my favorites – when I told her not to go to any trouble.

As Fluffy, a cashmere-soft Havanese with raisin-black eyes, scurries around and tries to jump in her lap, talk turns to Gillian’s work with the Central Park Conservancy, where she is executive vice president of the Women’s Committee, which raises about 20 percent of the park’s $26.2-million budget every year. It was Serena and Quint who sparked her interest; when they were younger, they played in the park, which is right across the street from their apartment by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Gillian set up the patrons program for its Playground Partners, which maintains the park’s 21 play spaces.

“I’ve been very fortunate, and I believe you should lead by example,” she says. “That’s why I give time and money to every cause I’m involved in. I’ve decided to focus on children and education because when you give someone an education, you give them a chance. With an education and hard work, you can change your destiny.”
Gillian at the 25th Anniversary Princess Grace Awards.
Gillian, Quint, and Serena at a benefit for Free Arts.
Gillian, Serena, and Fluffy at the Central Park Conservancy's opening of The Peter Jay Sharp Children’s Glade.
Gillian and Sylvester at New York City Opera's 2007 Fall Season Opening night.
Allison Rockefeller, Eric Javits, and Gillian at the 24th Annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon in 2006.
Lucia Hwong Gordon, Fe Fendi, Gillian Miniter, and Patricia Shiah at the New York City Ballet's “Dancing for Lincoln; a Centennial Celebration.”
Chairwomen Gillian Miniter with Serena, Sylvester, Quint, and guests at the New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet's Nutcracker Family Benefit.
Gustavo Arango, Christine Cachot, and Sylvester and Gillian Miniter at The Presentation of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal Benefiting The Municipal Art Society of New York. Dec, 10, 2007.
That’s why Gillian set up scholarships at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania and helps with fund-raising, and that’s why she’s working with UNICEF and Women in Need, a New York City-based organization that provides long-term transitional housing, child care and counseling for families.

“The most important part of fund-raising is to really believe in the cause you’re supporting and really be very passionate about it,” she says. “More than anything else, you serve as an ambassador for the cause. When you’re passionate, it makes other people passionate, and that’s one of the best things you can give because it makes other people excited.”

Gillian’s enthusiasm already has rubbed off on Serena and Quint, who twice a year take their toy-size rakes and spades to Central Park, where with other schoolchildren, they clean and plant in the park through a program founded by their mother. “They absolutely love it because the park is one of their favorite places,” Gillian says.
Serena Miniter and friends
Lois and Anne Herring
A couple of weeks ago, The Playground Partners & Patrons Committee of the Central Park Conservancy hosted dozens of adorable children for a Fall "Leaf Sweep" in Central Park to spruce up the landscape around the James Michael Levin playground. They gathered leaves with pint-size rakes and leaf-collecting buckets and spent a day in the dirt!

Playground Partners & Patrons is a group dedicated to keeping Central Park's playgrounds clean, safe, and well-maintained. The program funds a maintenance crew and equipment dedicated solely to the upkeep and repair of Central Park's 21 Playgrounds. Carol Herring and Jennifer Saul Yaffa are co-chairs. Betsy Messerschmitt (President of the Central Park Conservancy's Women's Committee), Kamie Lighburn, Gillian Miniter, Amy Schrader, and Laura Hall (Associate VP, Central Park Conservancy) were among the attendees.
Lira Lee
Carol Herring, Jennifer Saul Yaffa, Betsy Messerschmitt, and Laura Hall
Charity work is Gillian’s job, and she commits 15 to 20 hours per week to her various causes. She recently added The School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center, New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre to her list. “I have gotten more involved in the arts,” she says, “and I love that all of these programs go to the schools.”

While her workweek is filled with philanthropic pursuits, weekends are for the family, although sometimes things, like this interview, do overlap. “My daughter loves the ballet,” she says, “and we just got a family subscription for Sunday matinees to New York City Ballet.”

Talk of the children reminds me to ask her about the twin pastel portraits over the sideboard. Serena, in a sunflower yellow smocked dress, and Quint, in a matching jumper, look just like Caroline and John-John Kennedy in the 1960s. “That’s quite a compliment,” Gillian says, adding that Serena wants to be an actress and Quint is an avid baseball fan.

Liz Smith with Liz Sans and Gillian Miniter at Fete de Swifty 2006.
Oh, how could she have forgotten? She is co-chairing the Fete de Swifty with our own David Patrick Columbia; proceeds will go to set up a family justice center in Queens. “Again, this goes with my whole charitable theme of women and children in need,” she says. “The women are being abused, and the children suffer even more because they feel it is their fault and they should have done something.”

Gillian hopes that her work inspires others to get involved in philanthropy. “Giving back makes me feel good,” she says. “I do a lot of good works, and hopefully I have made a difference in some lives.”

Super Mom Gillian, who has been suffering from a cold, is supposed to stay in bed, so let’s not tell Sylvester, but against his advice, she’s going for a walk then out to lunch with a friend. In the afternoon, she will head over to the holiday lighting ceremony at the Dana Discovery Center in Central Park. This is her idea of a “hedonistic” day.

When the interview ends, she graciously offers to wrap up some of those sweet “Nutcracker Suite” ballet slippers. I can’t bear to take them; they should be placed on the mantel of hung on the Christmas tree.

As I get in the elevator, I hear her call to Fluffy, who has been outfitted in a cream-color fisherman’s cable sweater that coordinates with Gillian’s hand-crocheted top. “Let’s go for a walk in the park,” she says.

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